Army ‘deeply regrets’ death of soldier during live-firing exercise

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The Army has said it “deeply regrets” the death of a young soldier who was shot during a live-firing exercise, following the publication of an official report.

Private Conor McPherson, 24, from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, died after suffering a head wound at the Otterburn Training Area in Northumberland at around 11pm on Monday August 22 last year.

A probe into the incident has identified eight “contributory factors” that made the accident more likely to happen that night, including a lack of effective supervision of the soldier who fired the shot.

It has issued a series of recommendations aimed at reducing the likelihood of a similar accident reoccurring, which the Army is now said to be considering carefully.

Army spokesman Colonel Jim Taylor said: “The Army deeply regrets the death of Private Conor McPherson. What happened that night in Otterburn on August 22 2016 was a terrible, terrible tragedy.”

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) service inquiry (SI) into the death was carried out by the Defence Safety Authority (DSA).

It found that Pte McPherson received a fatal gunshot wound at 10.57pm that night.

People on the range ran to assist – giving him CPR, tending to the wound and calling the emergency services.

He was later pronounced dead at the scene by a paramedic.

“It was confirmed by post-mortem that Pte McPherson received an unsurvivable injury, which was entirely consistent with a gunshot wound,” the report stated.

The investigating panel said it is highly likely a solder named only as “firer 2” – a private who had been in the military for five and a half years – misidentified Pte McPherson as a target and fired the fatal round. This was identified as the “causal factor” in the death.

Referring to the hour leading up to the incident, the report noted: “Due to the limited light levels and lack of experience of firing at night, the firers kept falling over and struggled to identify the targets. Some firers were surprised as they had expected illumination to aid in the identification of the targets.”

In its 82-page report, the investigating panel set out eight “contributory factors” in the accident, defined as factors which made the accident more likely to happen.

“The panel concludes that the lack of effective supervision of firer 2 was a contributory factor in the accident,” it stated.

It also highlighted the lack of a walk-through of the range, the “inexperience” of safety supervisors during the night exercise and some soldiers’ lack of experience of night firing without illumination.

It further set out 13 other factors which, whilst they played no part in the accident in question, are noteworthy in that they could contribute to a future accident.

Writing in the report, Lieutenant General Richard Felton, director general of the DSA, said: “Private Conor McPherson a member of 3 Platoon, A Company, 3 SCOTS was killed during what should have been a fairly routine live-firing night exercise. The fire team (FT) level training he was conducting was early in an infantry unit’s training progression and at the lower end of complexity.

“This perhaps makes his death even more tragic, but equally serves as a reminder of the unique dangers inherent in conducting realistic military training.”

He also questioned why the company had been involved in an 18-hour day.

“The panel did not identify fatigue as a factor, but I question why such a long and busy day was necessary,” he said.

Responding to the report, Mr Taylor, of HQ Field Army, training branch, said: “Live firing at night is inherently risky but we have to do it to be combat ready. We welcome this service inquiry; it has done outstanding work to identify what went wrong.

“In particular, their reconstruction of the events that night has been invaluable in helping us identify what caused the accident and the factors which contributed to it. We are now carefully considering its recommendations.

“We care about our soldiers above all else and we do everything we can to reduce the risks to them as they conduct the essential training required to prepare them for combat operations.”

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