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Soldier’s family ‘disappointed’ at report into training exercise death

Lance Corporal Joe Spencer, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died at RAF Tain in the Scottish Highlands in 2016.

The family of a soldier who died during an Army training exercise have said a report into his death raises unanswered questions.

Lance Corporal Joe Spencer, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died at RAF Tain in the Scottish Highlands on November 1 2016.

A report by the Defence Safety Authority said there had been a “series of errors, shortfalls and poor judgement” at the training exercise and described his death as an “avoidable accident”.

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Police near RAF Tain (Ben Philip/PA)

But the family of the 24-year-old, from Hampshire, have been left “disappointed” by the report, which they said “raises numerous unanswered questions due to the abundance of unsubstantiated speculations and assumptions and factual inaccuracies and inconsistencies”.

In a statement, they said they had been “extremely upset” that the report had been published despite their questions when they were shown the conclusions last month – to which they said they had not received a response.

They said: “It is clear to us the individuals responsible for delivering the sniper training course did not do so in accordance with the mandated course syllabus and requisite rules and regulations.

“We strongly believe Joe would still be with us today if they had.”

The soldier’s partner Cherycce Connelly said: “The report details far more failings than we could ever have anticipated and to say I am both angry and disappointed with its findings would be an understatement.”

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Lance Corporal Joe Spencer with Cherycce Connelly (Family handout/PA)

The 24-year-old, who lives in Dundee, added: “Joe deserved better. He was not on active deployment in a war zone. He was in training, where risk to life should have been minimal. Joe should have come home.”

The report, published on Thursday, said the soldier died after his rifle discharged as he rested his chin on the weapon.

It said: “Whilst resting his chin on the weapon’s suppressor, equipment or clothing most probably snagged the rifle’s trigger inadvertently, resulting in its discharge.

“That his weapon was in an unsafe condition with a round chambered was extremely likely to have been caused by an incomplete unload drill being carried out earlier that day.”

The report added: “Whilst the initiative shown by the SNCOs (senior non commissioned officers) in wanting to conduct an SOC (Sniper Operators’ Course) is commendable, a series of errors, shortfalls and poor judgement conspired and ended in the death of a capable and highly-regarded JNCO (junior non commissioned officer).”

It said poor supervision and a failure to follow mandated procedures were themes of the Service Inquiry report and added that the “post-accident response fell short in a number of areas”.

The report said there had been lower levels of supervision throughout the course and specifically on the day of the soldier’s death and made a number of recommendations for the future.

Following the report’s publication, an Army spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts remain with Lance Corporal Joe Spencer’s friends and family at this difficult time.

“The safety and welfare of our personnel is of the utmost importance and we will now carefully consider the recommendations which have been made by the Service Inquiry.”

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