Soldier’s rifle discharged as he rested chin on gun at north firing range

Lance Corporal Joe Spencer
Lance Corporal Joe Spencer

A soldier was killed after his rifle discharged as he rested his chin on the weapon during an Army ‘sniper’ training exercise at a Highland firing range.

Lance Corporal Joe Spencer, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died at RAF Tain in November 2016.

A Service Inquiry report published yesterday by the Defence Safety Authority said the 24-year-old from Hampshire died when his rifle went off as he rested his chin on it.

The report said there had been a “series of errors, shortfalls and poor judgement” during a sniper training course he was taking part in, and concluded his death was an “avoidable accident.”

The report said: “Whilst resting his chin on the weapon’s suppressor, equipment or clothing most probably snagged the rifle’s trigger inadvertently, resulting in its discharge.

“That his weapon was in an unsafe condition with a round chambered was extremely likely to have been caused by an incomplete unload drill being carried out earlier that day.”

It added: “Whilst the initiative shown by the SNCOs (senior non commissioned officers) in wanting to conduct an SOC (Sniper Operators’ Course) is commendable, a series of errors, shortfalls and poor judgement conspired and ended in the death of a capable and highly-regarded JNCO (junior non commissioned officer).”

Poor supervision and a failure to follow mandated procedures were themes of the whole report and added that the “post-accident response fell short in a number of areas.”

The report said there had been lower levels of supervision throughout the course and specifically on the day of the soldier’s death and made a number of recommendations for the future.

But the young man’s family said the report raises unanswered questions.

In a statement, they said they are “extremely upset” it has been published despite their questions when they were shown the conclusions last month – to which they said they had not received a response.

They said: “It is clear to us the individuals responsible for delivering the sniper training course did not do so in accordance with the mandated course syllabus and requisite rules and regulations.

“We strongly believe Joe would still be with us today if they had.”

Following the report’s publication an Army spokesman said: “Our thoughts remain with Lance Corporal Joe Spencer’s friends and family at this difficult time.

“The safety and welfare of our personnel is of the utmost importance and we will now carefully consider the recommendations which have been made by the Service Inquiry.”