March 2, 2016 / 3:27 PM / 2 years ago

British military rapped over deaths of three soldiers on exercise

LONDON (Reuters) - British health and safety officials said on Wednesday they would give the Ministry of Defence (MoD) a “Crown Censure” over the deaths of three soldiers during a grueling cross-country selection test for the elite Special Air Service (SAS).

A flag bearing the emblem of the Special Air Services (SAS) flies in the Loyalist Tigers Bay area of North Belfast August 19, 2014. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

The reservists, Lance Corporals Craig Roberts and Edward Maher and Corporal James Dunsby, died after an arduous march in rugged terrain on the Brecon Beacons, a remote area of central Wales, in July 2013 on one of the hottest days of the year.

They had been trying to complete a 16-mile (26-km) march in under nine hours, carrying heavy kit, as part of the selection process to join the SAS.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the MoD would have faced prosecution over the failures which led to the men’s deaths but it had immunity from any such action.

A Crown Censure was therefore the most serious punishment open to the HSE, a rarely-used rebuke which is an official record of failing to meet standards set out in law but one which has no financial penalty.

“Health and safety is not about stopping people from doing dangerous work or being properly prepared for military duties,” said Neil Craig, the HSE head of operations.

“Military training is inherently hazardous. However, such testing needs to be managed effectively. The MoD has a duty to manage the risks during training exercises. It failed to do so on this occasion.”

A coroner overseeing an inquest into the deaths last year said there had been a catalog of mistakes, the risk assessment for the march had not been adequate and the response to the incident had been chaotic.

The MoD said it had made improvements to exercises and an inquiry was underway to learn lessons to ensure there was no recurrence.

“The MOD acknowledges this censure and has apologized for the failures identified,” a spokeswoman said.

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Kate Holton

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