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'Too much paperwork' to halt march

Published 01/06/2015

Edward Maher was one of the reservists who died during a selection exercise (MoD)
Edward Maher was one of the reservists who died during a selection exercise (MoD)

An Army officer told a grieving family it would have been "too much paperwork" to cancel a special forces test march which led to three deaths, a coroner has heard.

The unnamed commanding officer is alleged to have made the remark to relatives of Lance Corporal Craig Roberts shortly after they had viewed his body in a mortuary.

An inquest into the deaths of L/Cpl Roberts, Lance Corporal Edward Maher and Corporal James Dunsby has heard that the men collapsed on the Brecon Beacons in South Wales on one of the hottest days of 2013.

In a family statement read to the hearing by her lawyer, L/Cpl Roberts' mother Margaret questioned why the 24-year-old was "sent up there in that heat" on July 13.

The family of L/Cpl Roberts, who was working as a teaching assistant, were informed of his death at 11.30pm on the day of the exercise.

In their statement, family members said they later visited a hospital in South Wales, where they asked a commanding officer whether the timing of the march could have been changed.

"He replied 'There would be too much paperwork'," the family statement added. "We were so angry with this answer. We were being told that the march wasn't cancelled to save on paperwork."

Born in St Asaph in North Wales, L/Cpl Roberts joined the Army reserves while studying at the University of Leicester and had also worked as a fitness instructor.

Described as being very patriotic, the banking and finance graduate served with the Royal Anglian Regiment in Cyprus before informing family members that he wished to be selected for the reserve special forces.

The family statement added: "We were concerned, well actually terrified, about where he might be sent and the danger he might be put in.

"But it didn't occur to us to be worried about training.

"We are proud to be his parents. In the days and weeks that followed Craig's death we asked ourselves why he and others were sent up there in that heat.

"We hope this inquest can answer that question."

The inquest, being heard in Solihull, West Midlands, is expected to last for up to four weeks and to examine risk-assessments, briefings and the amount of water given to soldiers before the 16-mile (26km) march.

L/Cpl Roberts, originally from Penrhyn Bay, Conwy, was pronounced dead on the mountainside, while L/Cpl Maher and Corporal Dunsby, both 31, were taken to hospital.

L/Cpl Maher, who was born in Winchester, died later the same day in Merthyr Tydfil's Prince Charles Hospital.

Cpl Dunsby, from Bath, Somerset, died on July 30 after being transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

Earlier, the widow of Cpl Dunsby, who was an analyst for the Ministry of Defence, described him as tall, dark and handsome.

She added he was "charming", with many friends and "an exceptional all-rounder", gifted academically and at sports.

Bryher Dunsby also said the Afghanistan veteran was extremely fit, a trained combat medic and first joined the British Army as a reserve in 2005, having previously served with the Australian Army.

She said Cpl Dunsby, a University of Sussex graduate, had been "a delightful, eccentric mix between Flashman, a PG Wodehouse novel, and a Noel Coward play".

"He loved the British Army."

At one point she paused in her evidence, turned to the coroner and said: "I have to do right by him."

The inquest heard that L/Cpl Maher was a former full-time Army soldier with the Royal Green Jackets who was no stranger to working in hot climates.

His father, also called Edward, said his son left the Army in 2009 but had joined up as a reservist after graduating from the University of Southampton.

Mr Maher told the inquest: "Although we suspected he was working with special forces, we didn't ask him to confirm this.

"In his spare time he volunteered with a number of charities, including Help for Heroes. He was interested in boxing, mixed martial arts and running.

"He was superbly fit."

Detective Constable David Gilbert of Dyfed-Powys Police said course information showed several soldiers were pulled off the march because of the heat.

Meanwhile, the three men's own tracking data was able to show exactly where they succumbed to conditions.

L/Cpl Roberts and L/Cpl Maher had been making "good time", then suddenly their GPS monitors showed they had stopped.

At 3.36pm, L/Cpl Roberts activated his personal "man-down" beacon showing he was in trouble, and was found 25 minutes later.

His colleague, L/Cpl Maher, had set off on the same route at a slightly different time, but at 4.10pm his tracker showed he had also stopped. He was not found for another 45 minutes, and was "not breathing".

L/Cpl Maher was only about 1,000 yards from the finishing line, said Mr Gilbert.

Cpl Dunsby was on a different route, but started to fall behind time - a fact he would have been aware of.

"At 4.10pm, he was noted as not making any progress, but at 4.52pm he was actually found by directing staff," said Mr Gilbert.

Both L/Cpl Roberts and L/Cpl Maher died of hyperthermia, while Cpl Dunsby died of multiple organ failure as a result of hyperthermia.

Data from a weather station five miles from the Brecons showed the temperature was just over 27C by late afternoon.

The earliest signs conditions were getting to some of the men were at 11.18am, when a report came in of two men - not among the dead - who were "struggling".

Between 12.14pm and 4.53pm, at least nine soldiers were recorded as having problems with the heat, including Cpl Dunsby, L/Cpl Maher and L/Cpl Roberts.

Another turned back, realising he did not have enough water to go on, one more was escorted back "in a bad way", and another pulled out with a leg injury.

One of those men reported to medics that he was "disorientated and hallucinating".

Another was found by civilian walkers, who activated his emergency beacon.

The inquest, being heard by the coroner rather than a jury, heard that a "ping" from the tracking device showed L/Cpl Maher was not moving at 2.26pm.

L/Cpl Maher's father suggested to Mr Gilbert that somebody only arrived to help the soldier about two and a half hours later.

Mr Maher asked the police officer: "Was there any explanation given to you as to why it took so long to get to him after the last ping was received? Is there any explanation as to why there was this huge delay?"

Mr Gilbert replied: "No."

The inquest was adjourned until 9.30am tomorrow.

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