Senior Army officer criticised over recruit 'beasting' death


A coroner has criticised a senior Army officer as he began giving his findings into the death of a young recruit who died from heatstroke following a beasting.

Assistant Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner Alan Large said Lieutenant Colonel Mark Davis, who was then a captain, would have known that ordering a young soldier to be brought to him "hot and sweaty" would have resulted in him being subjected to heavy exercise.

Mr Large said Col Davis's evidence was that he ordered Corporal John Edwards to being Private Gavin Williams to him "hot and sweaty", but Cpl Edwards insisted he said "panting like a dog".

"I do not consider there is much difference in meaning between 'hot and sweaty' and 'panting like a dog'," the coroner said as he began giving his findings.

"The adjutant was clear that he did not intend that Gavin should be marched around camp.

"Having considered all the evidence about this important aspect of the case, I am quite satisfied when the adjutant gave the order to the provost corporal that Gavin should be brought to him 'hot and sweaty', he knew that would result in Gavin being marched for a period of drill before being brought to his office.

"Aimed at getting him hot and sweaty and that this drill would be more than any form of marching from the guard room to the headquarters building.

"I do not consider there is any other sensible explanation for the phrases used and I reject the adjutant's evidence that he simply meant he should be brought over to his office.

"He is an intelligent and articulate Army officer. If he had meant that, he would have said so."

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

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

The soldier, from Hengoed in 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 Russell Price, the Provost Sergeant in charge of discipline, and two colleagues - physical training instructor Sergeant Paul Blake and Provost Corporal Edwards - were cleared of manslaughter in 2008.

The inquest into Pte Williams's death resumed in November at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner's Court in Salisbury and heard evidence from more than 100 witnesses.

The hearing was told that the soldier had been out drinking heavily with colleagues on the Friday and Saturday nights before his death.

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

Following the second night, there was an incident at the barracks with a fire extinguisher in which Pte Williams sprayed guests of the adjutant, Captain Mark Davis, with water.

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

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

The following day, he failed to report for guard duty and was found hiding in his bathroom, wearing just a pair of shorts.

Capt Davis, now a lieutenant colonel, said he ordered the soldier to be brought to him "hot and sweaty", but Mr Edwards, who has since left the Army, said the officer used the phrase "panting like a dog".

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

Witnesses of the beasting described seeing Pte Williams sweating and looking weak and exhausted.

Private Michael Matthews said: "He looked in a s*** state. 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."

Former soldier Gareth Davies said beasting was a "regular occurrence" and "part of Army life" at the camp.

Pte Williams later complained of stomach ache, was suffering from diarrhoea and was visibly shaking before he was taken to the medical centre - although he had to carry an 11lb (5kg) power bag to stop him running away.

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

Staff also did not take his temperature and neither did the attending paramedics when they were called.

Giving evidence, Mr Price, 53, broke down in tears as he described seeing the soldier in visible distress in the medical centre before he collapsed.

"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."

There was a 40-minute gap between Pte Williams's collapse and him arriving at the hospital.

The soldier was admitted to the A&E department without any medical notes and doctors were not told he had been subjected to heavy exercise that day.