Inquest to open over deaths of soldiers on training exercise

Updated: 

Inquests are to be opened into the deaths of two soldiers fatally injured during a training exercise at a tank firing range.

Corporals Matthew Hatfield and Darren Neilson, of the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), died from injuries they suffered at the Castlemartin range in Pembrokeshire, Wales, on June 14.

The inquests will be convened at Birmingham and Solihull Coroners' Court, later today.

Cpl Hatfield, 27, from Wiltshire, and Cpl Neilson, 31, originally from Blackburn, Lancashire, were experienced soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two other soldiers were seriously injured in the incident.

Cpl Neilson, who was married, joined the Army in 2004 and was a tank gunnery instructor and commander.

His colleague, Cpl Hatfield, who was engaged, joined the army aged 16 and during training at Bovington won the prize for the best cadet.

In a statement immediately after the soldiers' deaths, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Ridgway, commanding officer of The Royal Tank Regiment, said they were "exceptionally talented soldiers who loved what they did".

He added: "The regiment has lost two real characters and feels truly honoured to have served with them."

The RTR is the oldest tank unit in the world and is based at Tidworth, Wiltshire.

The incident came five years after a 21-year-old soldier died when he was shot in the head after live machine gunfire was wrongly directed towards a "safe haven" area at Castlemartin.

Castlemartin Range, spread of 2,400 hectares, is used to carry out direct-fire live gunnery exercises for tanks and armoured vehicles.

Senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull Louise Hunt will be holding the inquests, and has previous experience in convening hearings into the deaths of Armed Forces' personnel.

She held inquests in 2015 into the deaths of three Army reservists on an SAS test march in the Brecon Beacons in 2013.

More recently, Ms Hunt heard the case of serving British soldier Pte Jamie Lee Sawyer, who died on a kayaking course off the coast of Cyprus while deployed with the United Nations in 2015.