The recent media coverage of army punishment exercises – or ‘beastings’ – gives me great cause for concern regarding the welfare of our service personnel.
Earlier this week, the inquest into the 2006 death of Private Gavin Williams reopened at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner’s Court in Salisbury. Pte Williams, who served with the Second Battalion of the Royal Welsh Regiment at Lucknow Barracks, was aged 22 when he died from heart failure after suffering from heatstroke after a punishment known in military circles as a “beasting.”
As a solicitor specialising in military accident claims, I’ve met many members of our armed forces who have been injured during training because of someone else’s negligence. Deliberate punishment regimes that result in a soldier’s injury or death are something else altogether, and very worrying indeed.
Inappropriate Military Discipline
In 2008, three senior soldiers charged with manslaughter in relation to Pte Williams’ death were found not guilty by a jury at Winchester Crown Court.
Following the acquittal, Judge Justice Royce condemned the practice of beasting, saying that it “clearly falls outside appropriate military discipline”. He also criticised the fact that the three men who faced trial were all soldiers, commenting that senior officers must have known what was going on.
Pte Williams died as a result of heatstroke after carrying out his punishment on one of the hottest days of the summer. Earlier this year, the coroner in the Brecon Beacons inquest severely criticised the British Army following the deaths of three reservists on a selection test march on one of the hottest days of 2013.
Like the toughness of the selection tests, some argue that beastings are a necessary part of training, designed to toughen soldiers up and test their resolve. Others, however, argue that beastings are akin to bullying and, aside from the physical risks, repeated beastings can have lasting effects on a soldier’s mental health.
The inquest into Pte Williams’ death, which reopened at his family’s request, continues.
Zoe Sutton is a senior associate specialising in military accident claims at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.
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