Soldier who died after 'beasting' was 'draining out', inquest told

A junior soldier who died of heatstroke after being subjected to an informal Army punishment known as "beasting" was looking in a "shit state" as he carried it out, an inquest has heard.

Private Gavin Williams, 22, from Hengoed, South Wales, died after being put through the intense session of physical exercise at Lucknow Barracks in Tidworth, Wiltshire, to punish him for disobedience and a series of drunken incidents.

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

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

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

An inquest into Pte Williams's death resumed on Monday at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner's Court in Salisbury and began hearing from the first witnesses on Tuesday.

The court heard that Pte Williams had been out drinking with colleagues on the weekend before his death and is thought to have taken ecstasy in a nightclub, although none of his friends saw him take drugs.

When he returned to his barracks on the Sunday morning there was an incident with a fire extinguisher in which guests of an officer were sprayed with water, the court heard.

Later that morning Pte Matthews turned up unfit for guard duty and was incorrectly dressed and smelling of alcohol, so was sent away to sort himself out and told to report to his superiors on the Monday. The following day Pte Williams was seen being subjected to the beasting.

Private Michael Matthews drove past Pte Williams and described him being "yakked" - a form of extreme physical exercise - by Cpl Edwards.

"I saw Pte Williams at about 10am and he was outside the guardroom being 'yakked'," Pte Matthews said in a statement.

"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 carry on marching on the spot for a couple of minutes and carry on again. Cpl Edwards was telling him to do this.

"About 20 minutes later I drove past again and he'd only moved about 100 metres and sweat was coming off his face. He looked in a shit state. Cpl Edwards was with him at that time.

"When I first saw him he was not carrying anything and was just marching. When I saw him 100 metres on he still was not carrying anything but 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.

"This type of punishment only usually lasts an hour. Generally it is half-hour march and half an hour in the gym and that's you finished and the punishment done.

"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. Even just sitting in my car doing nothing I was sweating, yet alone what Pte Williams must have been feeling doing the marching as well.

"Gavin obviously did something wrong which is why he was being marched but it did seem to be going on a little bit too much in the heat.

"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."

Earlier, the inquest heard from Private Ledua Vasukiviwa, who saw Pte Williams on the Saturday morning after he returned from his night out said was convinced he had taken drugs because of his behaviour.

"He was sweating all over profusely. The only thing that came into my mind was that they were taking drugs," he said in a statement.

"Gavin seemed very stressed and kept putting his fingertips to the side of his head and closing his eyes as if he was in deep thought. He said he was very stressed and had a lot to think about."

Pte Vasukiviwa said Pte Williams got between 15 and 20 tablets from his pocket and offered him some.

"I refused to take the tablet and he was insisting, almost pleading," he said.

"Gavin said it was ecstasy and he said he had already taken seven that morning and I watched as he swallowed two more." 

Read Full Story