Bulford, Great Britain—The two British special forces instructors have been acquitted of negligence over the deaths of three SAS candidates in 2013.
For PERSEC reasons, the two SF instructors were only identified as 1A and 1B. 1A, a captain, was the training officer in command of the march; 1B, a warrant officer, was the exercise’s chief instructor.
“There is no evidence of negligent performance of duty when the actions of these servicemen are compared to what a ‘reasonable’ serviceman would do in such circumstances,” said Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett, the chief judge
It was a 16-mile speed march with a 60 pound rucksack plus weapon, radio, and an ammo vest. The total weight neared 100 pounds.
“The two defendants did the best they could with the culture that existed at the time and the lack of training that they had,” added Blackett
Although this verdict exonerates the two SF instructors, it highlights a perhaps unhealthy and needlessly hard mentality in SF selection.
Two of the territorial soldiers, Lance Corporal Craig Roberts and Lance Corporal Edward Maher, died from heatstroke. The third, Corporal James Dunsby, succumbed to extensive organ failure two weeks later.
After the verdict, and in response to the allegations of the prosecution, the two SF men issued a statement:
“The prosecution said that these defendants had not set up a safe test system for the candidates. The defendants have always maintained that they did their duty diligently and conscientiously and they have now been vindicated. The judge has set out in great detail how the defendants did their best to provide a safe test system and even how they tried to stop the marches continuing on to the second day yet were overruled. The wider organisational failings that resulted in a Crown Censure of the Ministry of Defence were not attributable to these defendants. The Test for military negligence is whether they fell below the standard of reasonable servicemen with their training knowledge and experience.”
Bryher Dunsby, the widow of Corporal Dunsby, said that the verdict “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.”
In response, the judges said that the trial’s purpose wasn’t to blame systemic failures to just two men, even if they were the officers in charge. “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,” they concluded.
The prosecutor, Louis Mably QC, stated that he and reservists’ families would not seek to appeal the court-martial’s decision.
Although this verdict exonerates the two SF instructors, it highlights a perhaps unhealthy and needlessly hard mentality in SF selection. There is a difference between hard training and thoughtless training. The former is necessary considering the unforgiving nature of the job; the latter, however, is a residue of past beliefs. It’s a dangerous job and training deaths are part of it. But avoidable deaths are inexcusable.