Officer wanted to see soldier 'panting like a dog', inquest told


A soldier who died of heatstroke after being subjected to a "beasting" was ordered to be produced to an Army officer "panting like a dog", an inquest has 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 incidents.

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 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, and Sergeant Paul Blake and Corporal John Edwards, both from the Second Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment - who carried out the punishment were cleared of manslaughter at Winchester Crown Court in 2008.

Mr Edwards, who has since left the Army, said he received a phone call from battalion adjutant Captain Mark Davis on the morning of the day Pte Williams died.

"He wanted Gavin in his office and he wanted to speak to him," he told the inquest in Salisbury.

"He told me that he wanted him at his office panting like a dog."

The adjutant, now a Lieutenant Colonel, has denied using that phrase, insisting he said "hot and sweaty" instead.

When asked about the discrepancy, Mr Edwards replied: "I stand by my statement. I will stick with 'panting like a dog'.

"He wanted me to take him (Pte Williams) for a quick march and to make him out of breath so he could speak to him. He wanted, I think, to have him on the back foot."

Assistant coroner Alan Large asked: "Did you interpret what the adjutant was saying as, 'bring him to my room now?'."

Mr Edwards replied: "No."

The march lasted for 20 minutes by a parade square in view of many superiors, he added.

"I took him that way because of the heat and I didn't want to push him any further," Mr Edwards said.

"I could have taken him further. Either way, I would have had high rankers looking to see what I could have done.

"The pace varied, it was a quick pace. I had him turning round, I had him marching forward, going to a certain point and then around."

Pte Williams complained of feeling sick and was leaning over, retching and looking drained about five minutes into the march.

He stopped a number of times before the march finished and was then taken to the adjutant's office, where he was told to write letters of apology and his cap badge was taken away.

"I said to Gavin, 'that's it now, you're done'," Mr Edwards said. "I said that was it. He had to write letters of apology."

However, Pte Williams was then taken to the gym by Sgt Price and Sgt Blake for an administrative punishment.

Mr Edwards said he questioned this, adding: "I thought Gavin had enough."

He said he did not know whether he informed Sgt Price that Pte Williams had been drinking over the weekend, or that he had diarrhoea. 

The inquest previously heard Pte Williams was behaving as if he had taken ecstasy on the Friday night, telling one soldier he had already swallowed seven pills as he washed down two more with lager.

Following the Saturday night, there was an incident at the barracks in which Pte Williams sprayed guests of an officer with water from a fire extinguisher.

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

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

The following day, he failed to report for guard duty and 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.

Mr Edwards insisted it was not his decision to subject Pte Williams to further physical punishment, following the march.

"I am not a monster," he said.

He said he had been following orders when he took Pte Williams on the march and slowed the pace at the end.

"The beats per minute (BPM) that he marched from HQ down to the guard room was a slower BPM march than he would have done previously," Mr Edwards told the inquest.

"It was at walking pace but he had the march and his arms up and his legs going properly."