South West Wales

Castlemartin tank death soldiers named by MoD

Darren Neilson and Matthew Hatfield Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption Cpl Neilson (left) and Cpl Hatfield were described as"exceptionally talented soldiers"

Two soldiers who died at a Ministry of Defence base in Pembrokeshire have been named as investigations continue.

Royal Tank Regiment corporals Matthew Hatfield, 27, from Wiltshire, and Darren Neilson, 31 from Lancashire died when an ammunition round exploded as they were in a tank at Castlemartin Range on Wednesday.

Two other soldiers remain in a serious condition in hospital.

The MoD, Dyfed-Powys Police and Health and Safety Executive are investigating.

Tank live firing exercises by British military have also been suspended at the site as a precaution.

Lt Col Simon Ridgway, Commanding Officer of The Royal Tank Regiment, said they were both "exceptionally talented soldiers who loved what they did".

"The regiment has lost two real characters and feels truly honoured to have served with them. They will both be sorely missed," he said.

Image copyright MOD
Image caption Cpl Hatfield with his fiancee

Cpl Hatfield, known to his friends as "Hattie", had a daughter, was engaged and living in Dorset.

He was a talented rugby player and played cricket for Collingbourne Cricket Club.

In a Facebook tribute, the club described him as a "young man and brave soldier taken far too young".

The first team will hold a minute silence before their game on Saturday.

Lt Col Ridgway described him as "an utterly professional, incredibly hard working and exceptionally well liked soldier".

"Whether as a tank driver, gunner, operator or commander, Hattie was in his element."

During his career, Cpl Hatfield was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was identified as having all the skills to be a tank commander, and having completed the course, he was selected to be a Challenger 2 gunnery instructor.

"He was a natural teacher and everyone benefitted from his enthusiasm, knowledge and desire to help others be the best they could be," said Lt Col Ridgway.

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Media captionShadow defence secretary Nia Griffith has welcomed the inquiry into the deaths

Cpl Neilson, known as "Daz", was from Blackburn and married with a daughter.

He joined the Army in 2004 serving with both the 1st and 2nd Royal Tank Regiments before they amalgamated. He also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lt Col Ridgway said he was "a real character" who had the respect of all those he worked with due to his "professionalism, easy going nature and natural leadership style".

Cpl Neilson had a talent for and specialised in gunnery and was a Challenger 2 gunnery instructor and commander.

"His passion for his career in general, and gunnery in particular, was obvious and many of our soldiers have improved their skills as a result of his dedication and experience," said Lt Col Ridgway.

He added their "thoughts and prayers" are with the two others soldiers, their families and friends at this "incredibly difficult time".

Image copyright Tank Memorial Ypres Salient
Image caption A wreath is laid at the Tank Memorial Ypres Salient, Belgium, in tribute to the Castlemartin soldiers who died

The Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, Tobias Ellwood said one of the men died at Morriston Hospital on Thursday morning, and the other at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff that evening.

A wreath has been laid at the Tank Memorial Ypres Salient in Belgium - which honours tank soldiers killed in the world wars - in tribute to those who died at Castlemartin.

Flags at the camp have been lowered to half mast.

Image caption Flags at Castlemartin were lowered to half mast after the MoD announced the first death

The MoD suspended tank live firing exercises as a precaution following the incident until the outcome of the investigation is known.

This applies to all British military, wherever they are in the world.

Lt Col John Skipper, defence analyst and former military intelligence officer, told the BBC's Good Morning Wales programme the safety record at Castlemartin was "excellent".

He said: "There are very, very few incidents given the very high level of training there, millions of rounds are fired there in the 44 weeks they're open every year."

He said Challenger 2 tanks were used at the range, one of two armoured fighting vehicle training areas in the UK where direct live firing exercises and vehicles manoeuvres take place.

Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption Castlemartin Range covers about 6,000 acres of land on the south Pembrokeshire coast

Simon Hart, MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, said the incident was "awful" for the area and everybody involved.

"We're hugely proud to welcome visiting soldiers here to train," he said, and that "we all know people who work at the camp".

Mr Hart added the MoD has a "very good system of making sure it gets to the bottom" of an incident, and that it was "well practised, sadly, in making sure that if there are lessons to be learned, they will be learned quickly".

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Media captionSimon Hart said training is often as "challenging and dangerous" as active service.

The 1st and 2nd Royal Tank Regiments merged in August 2014 to form The Royal Tank Regiment, which is based in Tidworth, Wiltshire.

The Army's website said the regiment was "preparing for a live fire exercise at Castlemartin in Wales", which was scheduled to take place at the range between Monday and Friday.

In May 2012, Ranger Michael Maguire died during a live firing exercise at the training base. An inquest later found he was unlawfully killed.

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