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Tragic soldier 'weak and exhausted during hot weather beasting'

Published 03/11/2015

Gavin Williams died after being put through an intense session of physical exercise at Lucknow Barracks
Gavin Williams died after being put through an intense session of physical exercise at Lucknow Barracks

A young soldier who died of heatstroke after being subjected to a "beasting" was looking weak and exhausted as he was forced to march in hot weather, an inquest heard.

Private Gavin Williams, 22, from Hengoed, south Wales, died after being put through the intense session of physical exercise to punish him for disobedience and a series of drunken high jinks.

Pte Williams, of the Second Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment, collapsed at Lucknow Barracks in Tidworth, Wiltshire, and died of heatstroke on Monday July 3 2006 - one of the hottest days of the year.

He was later admitted to hospital where tests showed his body temperature was 41.7C, way above the norm of 37C. Tests later showed he had ecstasy in his body when he died.

Three non-commissioned officers, Sergeant Russell Price, of 2 Rifles, Sergeant Paul Blake, and Corporal John Edwards, both from the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Regiment, who carried out the punishment, were cleared of manslaughter at Winchester Crown Court in 2008.

An inquest into Pte Williams's death resumed at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner's Court in Salisbury and heard Pte Williams had been out drinking heavily with colleagues on the Friday and Saturday nights before his death.

Witnesses said Pte Williams was behaving on the Friday night as if he had taken ecstasy - telling one soldier he had already swallowed seven pills as he washed down two more with lager.

The court heard that following the second night out there was incident at the barracks with a fire extinguisher in which Pte Williams sprayed guests of an officer with water.

Later that morning he turned up unfit for guard duty wearing flip flops, a pair of combat trousers and a vest, smelling of alcohol.

He was sent away to change into his uniform and told to report to his superiors on the Monday, the inquest was told.

The following day he failed to report for guard duty and he was found hiding in his bathroom wearing just a pair of shorts.

He was taken to his superiors where other soldiers overheard him being shouted at before he was seen being subjected to the beasting, an informal Army punishment.

Sergeant Andrew Rees said he walked passed Sgt Price's office and heard him shouting: "'You turn up in my guard room in that sort of state?' and words to the effect of 'You're a waste of space'."

Private Michael Matthews saw the soldier being "yakked" - a form of extreme physical exercise - by Cpl Edwards.

"It is a really stupid fast marching pace. It's like you do it on the spot and then you go forward a few metres and you carrying on marching on the spot for a couple of minutes and carry on again," he said.

"About 20 minutes later I drove passed again and he'd only moved about 100 metres and sweat was coming off his face. He looked in a s*** state. You could see from the way he was lifting his legs he was getting drained.

"You could see it in his face and you could see the sweat coming off him. You could see he was draining out. I could still only hear the words 'command' from Cpl Edwards.

"As I passed I remember thinking it's a bit hot for that type of punishment as it had been warm from quite early on. Usually they take into consideration the heat. There are health and safety regulations."

Another soldier, Private Adam Evans, saw Pte Williams marching very quickly and overheard Cpl Edwards shouting: "Did I tell you to stop? Get those f***ing knees up."

Later that day, Sgt Rees went to the guard room where he saw Sgt Price, Sgt Blake and Lance Corporal Philip Withers waiting to give statements about Pte Williams's death.

"Sgt Price seemed a bit agitated and wasn't himself. He seemed nervous and I assumed it was because something serious had happened. Paul Blake seemed fine and just a bit peeved that he had to give a statement," he said.

"They were all going over what had occurred and analysing if they had done anything wrong and they had done everything as they normally would.

"I did hear Paul Blake say that Williams had been in the gym for about four minutes and was complaining of a bad stomach. He had asked him to do 10 squats or press-ups but he only did four before complaining of stomach ache.

"Paul had told him to have another drink of water and then told him to do the punchbag. He'd only done a couple of punches before saying about his sore stomach, so they had taken him to the guard room and then the medical centre.

"There was also a discussion about the punishment thing. From what I gathered from their conversation they had done everything correctly."

Assistant Coroner Alan Large adjourned the inquest until tomorrow.

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