UK

MoD should be liable for forces training deaths, say MPs

UK troops on exercise on Salisbury Plain Image copyright AFP

The Ministry of Defence should be liable for prosecution over deaths of members of the armed forces during training, say MPs.

The Commons Defence Committee says the MoD should no longer enjoy crown immunity from corporate manslaughter laws in cases of gross negligence.

Since the start of 2000, 135 personnel have died while training.

The MoD said deaths in training were rare, but that "more needs to be done" and it would consider the report.

"The lives of serving personnel are worth no less than those of civilians," said the committee.

"Those responsible for their deaths must be equally liable under the law."

In the last 16 years there have been 89 deaths in the Army, 24 in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and 22 in the RAF during military training.

In 11 cases, the Health and Safety Executive issued a Crown censure - the highest penalty it can impose on the MoD.

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Media captionThe MoD would have faced prosecution over three SAS training deaths if not for immunity, the Health and Safety Executive finds

Last year, a coroner concluded that three reservists who died on an SAS selection march in the Brecon Beacons on one of 2013's hottest days died as a result of neglect.

The Army said it accepted it did not carefully manage the risks involved in the exercise.

The committee recommended that the "different circumstances" of reservists compared to full-time regular personnel should be taken into account when devising military training.

It also said the MoD's exemption from corporate manslaughter should continue to apply to military operations.

'Duty of care'

"While we have found no systemic failings, the MoD has not always got the correct balance between adequate training and reducing risk, resulting in life-changing injuries and deaths in training and selection events," said the committee in its "Beyond Endurance" report.

"We believe the MoD and the armed forces take their 'duty of care' responsibilities seriously. However, some members of the public do not.

"The MoD must take appropriate action to change this perception and reassure the public. Not to do so will continue to undermine confidence in the armed forces."


Analysis

Image copyright Geograph/William

By Jonathan Beale, defence correspondent, BBC News

The inquest into the deaths of James Dunsby, Edward Maher and Craig Roberts, who all died from the effects of heat-related illness, found serious failings by the Army on that hot July day. But while in theory individuals could be prosecuted for negligence, the Ministry of Defence itself is currently exempt from manslaughter charges. While the MPs accept that this protection might be needed in times of war, they argue when it comes to training it is an anomaly.

Why should the MoD be exempt when nearly every other organisation is not? The MoD has been careful not to dismiss the MPs findings. Not least because the report acknowledges the MoD takes its duty of care seriously, although there is a public perception it does not because of this immunity. Nevertheless it's hard to see the MoD agreeing to this protection being lifted. It might prove to be costly.


Hilary Meredith, chief executive at Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd, gave evidence at the Parliamentary Inquiry and described the report as a "major leap forward".

"I think many members of the armed forces accept that if they are in a wartime situation and they are either injured or killed then that's part and parcel of their employment.

"But if there are on manoeuvres or training they don't expect to be injured or killed."

An MoD spokesperson said: "The safety of our personnel is an absolute priority and, while each death is tragic, deaths in training are rare.

"We are grateful for the committee's acknowledgement of how seriously we take the risks associated with training and that we are moving in the right direction.

"We acknowledge that more needs to be done, which is why we set up the Defence Safety Authority last year.

"We will now carefully consider this report and respond in due course."

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