Sergeant describes horror of watching 'beasting' recruit collapse


An Army sergeant cleared of killing a young recruit during a "beasting" has described the horror of watching him collapse in front of him with heatstroke.

Russell Price, 53, broke down in tears as he told an inquest of seeing Private Gavin Williams, 22, in visible distress inside the medical centre at Lucknow Barracks in Tidworth, Wiltshire.

The young recruit had been subjected to an informal session of intense physical exercise - known as a beasting - to punish him for disobedience and a series of drunken incidents.

Pte Williams, of the Second Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment, collapsed on Monday July 3 2006, one of the hottest days of the year.

The soldier, from Hengoed, South Wales, 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.

Sgt Price, the Provost Sergeant in charge of discipline, and two colleagues, physical training instructor Sergeant Paul Blake and Provost Corporal John Edwards, were cleared of manslaughter in 2008.

An inquest into Pte Williams's death resumed last month at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner's Court in Salisbury before assistant coroner Alan Large.

Giving evidence, Mr Price said the battalion adjutant, Captain Mark Davis, had ordered Pte Williams to be "melted" and brought to his office.

The soldier was drilled outside for 15 minutes by Cpl Edwards, taken to see the adjutant for a dressing down before returning to the guardroom - minus his cap badge.

"I was totally shocked and I have never seen anything like that before. It was absolutely disgraceful to take their cap badge off them," he said.

"Given everything you go through to get a cap badge - it's why you go to war. You wear it with pride and to take it off you is unbelievable."

Mr Price said that when Pte Williams returned without his cap badge he interpreted that to mean Capt Davis wanted him to receive further physical punishment - although nothing had been said directly to him or Cpl Edwards - so he ordered him to the gym.

As Mr Price marched Pte Williams to meet Sgt Blake at the gym he was overheard telling him: "Two people in life you don't f*** with - one is your mother and the other's me."

Asked to explain that comment, Mr Price said: "I don't even know why I said it. I apologise. I don't know what was going on in my mind to make me say it."

Pte Williams later complained of stomach ache, was suffering from diarrhoea and was visibly shaking before he was taken to the medical centre.

While there, he became increasingly agitated and aggressive with medical orderly Private Simon Day, which led to him being restrained and handcuffed.

"As soon as I walked in it was mayhem in there. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know if they were fighting," Mr Price said.

Breaking down in tears, he added: "Pte Day was trying to restrain him. There was no violence, he was just trying to hold him down. It was horrible in there. I wasn't trained for it.

"The way he was struggling, he just kept thrashing about. One minute he would be fine and then the next minute he would be telling people to get off him and he would be thrashing around again."

Asked if he thought Pte Williams was faking his symptoms, Mr Price replied: "No chance, no way. There was no way earth you could fake that."

The coroner asked Mr Price about what he knew of the use of unofficial physical punishments outside of the official Army disciplinary regulations, known as AGAI 67.

"Whenever corrective military training was given out it was directed from a rank above us and it was always done in plain view of everyone - it was never done quietly," Mr Price said.

The court heard that in early 2006 Lee Davies, who is now a captain, took over as Regimental Sergeant Major and held a meeting with Mr Price and the other Provost staff.

The coroner read from Mr Price's earlier witness statement, in which he stated: "During this meeting RSM Davies stated he wanted to keep discipline as it is. He stated we could do whatever we wanted.

"We could make them, the soldiers, polish the tyres on the Wombat (anti-tank weapon) or even clean our own cars or whatever. He would back us 100%. He was basically saying to us whatever we do as regards discipline, carry on doing it, and it worked."

The coroner said that during Capt Davies's own evidence to the inquest he had denied this and maintained the Provost staff should follow the guidelines set out in AGAI 67.

Mr Price replied: "The conversation did take place. I remember those two sayings and that's what sticks in my mind."

But he insisted his superiors would have known about physical punishments because they were done very publicly and no officer had told him to stop.

"I made the assumption that the commanding officer knew what was going on. I accept now that he might not have known was what going on," he said.

"As the Provost staff we carried on doing what we were doing because we had not been told to stop."

After finishing giving evidence, Mr Price apologised to Pte Williams's family.

"I am truly sorry and deeply sorry for what's happened over the course of this event," he said.

"It breaks my heart and I am so sorry for the loss of Gavin."

The inquest continues.