Highlands & Islands

Soldier's death during training was 'avoidable accident'

L/Cpl Joe Spencer
Image caption Joe Spencer died in November 2016

A report has concluded that a number of failings led to the death of a soldier on a training exercise in the Highlands.

L/Cpl Joe Spencer, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died at a training area near Tain on 1 November 2016.

The 24-year-old from Hampshire was killed when his rifle discharged as he rested his chin on the weapon.

His family says the report, by the Defence Safety Authority, highlights more failings than they anticipated.

It states that a "series of errors, shortfalls and poor judgement" at an army weapons training exercise led to the death of L/Cpl Spencer, originally from Bishopstoke, and concludes that it 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."

Poor Supervision

The report 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)."

It said poor supervision and a failure to follow mandated procedures were themes of the service inquiry report and added that the "post-accident response fell short in a number of areas".

Image caption Joe and partner Cherycce Connelly had set up home in Dundee

L/Cpl Spencer's family said they were "disappointed" at the report's findings.

In a statement, they said: "We advised the service inquiry president that we were extremely disappointed with the content of the report and raised a number of questions.

"We have received no response and are extremely upset to learn that this report has now been made public without any of our concerns being answered.

"However, 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 complied."

The soldier's partner Cherycce Connelly said: "The report details far more failings than we could ever have anticipated and to say I am both angry and disappointed with its findings would be an understatement."

The 24-year-old, who lives in Dundee, added: "Joe deserved better. He was not on active deployment in a war zone. He was in training where risk to life should have been minimal. Joe should have come home."

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."

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