An inquest into the death of a British soldier who died during a punishment ritual has found that the Army failed to prevent his death.
Pte Gavin Williams died from heart failure brought about by heatstroke after being forced to carry out a ‘beasting’ – an Army term used for punishment involving intense physical exercise. The beasting took place at Lucknow Barracks in Wiltshire on the hottest day of 2006 and the three senior soldiers who carried out the punishment were previously cleared of manslaughter.
Reaching a conclusion at the inquest, Judge Alan Large said that the Army’s chain of command had “failed to prevent” Pte Williams’ death.
The Army said they are “truly sorry” for the “failings that led to Gavin’s death”.
Degrading and Inhuman Treatment
Some people argue that beastings are an important part of training, designed to “toughen up” soldiers and push them to their limit.
Repeated beastings, however, are not uncommon in the Army and can amount to bullying, with lasting psychological damage for the soldier involved.
In the case of Pte Williams, the coroner said: "This punishment was part of a system of such unofficial punishments operating in the battalion which the chain of command had failed to identify or prevent."
In a statement read out after the hearing, Pte Williams’ mother said: "I know that the nature of that beasting was so inhuman, so degrading, that it cannot be tolerated in any civilised world."
During the inquest, Judge Large pointed to “considerable evidence” that such punishments continued in the Army, so a crackdown on beastings is definitely required by the Army to ensure that no soldier suffers the same fate as Pte Williams.
I agree wholeheartedly that our soldiers should be trained to a very high standard of physical fitness, but there is a difference between training a soldier and imposing a dangerous punishment ritual. Senior Army personnel should have recognised that Pte Williams was suffering from heatstroke but, sadly, they did not – a failure to act which, as the coroner found, led to the death of a young soldier.
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