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Crown Censure for MoD over Brecon Beacon deaths

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is to be censured after three soldiers died in July 2013 whilst on a 26 km SAS training exercise in the Brecon Beacons, South Wales.

Despite its Crown status, the MoD is not exempt from its responsibilities as an employer to reduce the risks to its employees

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced it will issue the MoD with a Crown Censure – the equivalent of a criminal prosecution. There is no financial penalty associated with a Crown Censure, but it is an official record of a failing to comply with the law. 

On 13 July, Corporal James Dunsby and Lance Corporals Edward Maher and Craig Roberts were on a training march trying out for places in the SAS reserve. The temperature reached 27°C and, with few opportunities for the part-time reservists for refill their water bottles, they fell ill and collapsed. 

Roberts died from heatstroke during the exercise, Maher was taken to hospital but died three hours later, and Dunsby died on 30 July after he contracted hypothermia and suffered multiple organ failure. His body temperature reached 41°C. 

The HSE launched an investigation and found the MoD failed to plan, assess and manage risks associated with climatic illness during the training. Ten other soldiers on the same training exercise suffered from heat exhaustion. 

In July last year the inquest was told that heat stress guidance issued by the MoD – Joint Service Practice 539: Climatic Illness and Injury in the Armed Forces – advised that training be either cancelled or rescheduled where there is a risk of heat sickness during a routine training event. The officers overseeing the exercise, however, admitted to not reading the publication. 

At the inquest, coroner Louis Hunt criticised the MoD’s poor planning and said it responded chaotically to the reservists collapsing. The soldiers weren’t found until two and a half hours after they had collapsed because the tracking equipment they were wearing was unfit for purpose. 

Hunt also said the risk assessment was inadequate and a dynamic assessment was not carried out once the men became sick. 

According to the HSE, despite the MoD’s Crown status, it is not exempt from its responsibilities as an employer to reduce the risks to its employees. 

The executive’s head of operations Neil Craig said: “Health and safety is not about stopping people from doing dangerous work or being properly prepared for military duties. Military training is inherently hazardous. However, such testing needs to be managed effectively. The MoD has a duty to manage the risks during training exercises. It failed to do so on this occasion.”

The Crown Censure is for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and is the maximum sanction for a government body that the HSE can bring.


Keeley Downey is acting deputy editor of IOSH Magazine. She is a former editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine

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