THE widow of one of the three army reservists who died on an SAS training march in the Brecon Beacons has labelled the MoD’s response to their deaths as ‘beyond unacceptable’.
Bryher Dunsby urged the army to adopt new training guidelines after two SAS servicemen were today acquitted of negligently performing a duty by failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of candidates taking part in the exercises.
Lance Corporal Craig Roberts and L/Cpl Edward Maher were pronounced dead on the Welsh mountain range after suffering heatstroke on July 13, 2013.
Corporal James Dunsby died at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital from multiple organ failure more than two weeks later.
Servicemen 1A and 1B, whose identities are protected by an anonymity order, were the safety officers for the march and were acquitted by a five-person board on the direction of Jeff Blackett, Judge Advocate General.
Following the deaths, a number of inquiries identified systemic failures but prosecutors alleged that the defendants had committed fundamental and basic errors on a personal error.
But Judge Blackett found that their lack of training on heat illness and risk assessments meant that other servicemen in their position would not have acted differently.
‘I have determined that there is no evidence of negligent performance of duty when the conduct of these defendants is measured against the reasonable serviceman of similar experience, knowledge and training,’ he said.
He added: ‘The allegations of negligent performance of duty were only a small part in the overall failings — the deaths occurred because of the systemic failures within Joint Forces Command.
‘The MoD has accepted that there were systemic failures.’
Speaking outside court, Mrs Dunsby said she still missed her husband, Corporal Dunsby, every day.
‘This court martial has revealed the shocking reality that there is still no official guidance for those conducting endurance training marches in the British Army on heat illness even five years on,’ Mrs Dunsby said.
‘This is beyond unacceptable, and shows blatant ignorance to a vital need where apparently three deaths are not enough to incite change.
‘Nothing highlights this more than since the inquest in 2015, there have been yet further incidents from heat in training, even on Brecon.’
Mrs Dunsby called on the head of the British army to implement new guidelines for endurance marches and heat illness.
She added: ‘We all grow up with the national narrative that our SAS, quite rightly, are our elite and some of the best in the world, something we are very proud of here in the UK.
‘If we are to continue this level of excellence in a global arena, where defence provision is increasingly fundamental to our national security, more defence funding, progressive thinking and competent quality leadership must be prioritised.
‘Ensuring the training of our forces is run efficiently and safely is non negotiable, particularly when we are asking our service personal to push themselves to the ends of their endurance.
‘I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that any part of Special Forces selection should be made easier — what I am saying is that there is a greater need to track, monitor and asses students more and not less when the risks are so high.’
Thirty-seven reservists and 41 regular troops took part in the exercise, which was part of the aptitude phase for selection for a special military unit.
The march was 26km or 16 miles as the crow flies — though those taking part were expected to cover almost 30km or 18.5 miles — and had to be completed in eight hours 45 minutes.
Candidates carried a bergen, a backpack, weighing between 22 and 27kg as well as a dummy rifle.
Those who voluntarily withdrew from the march, or were withdrawn on medical grounds, failed.
Temperatures reached 26.3C from midday on the day of the march and had risen to 28.3C by 4pm.
Prosecuting, Louis Mably QC confirmed that he would not seek leave to appeal the judge’s decision.
L/Cpl Roberts was originally from Penrhyn Bay in North Wales, L/Cpl Maher, was from Winchester in Hampshire, and Cpl Dunsby was from Trowbridge in Wiltshire.