South West Wales

Michael Maguire death: Army captain jailed after soldier killed

Ranger Michael Maguire
Image caption Ranger Michael Maguire died after being shot in the head in May 2012

An Army captain has been jailed for 18 months after a soldier was killed during a live firing exercise.

Capt Jonathan Price was also dismissed from the Army by the court martial for the gross negligence manslaughter of Ranger Michael Maguire.

The 21-year-old was hit by a stray bullet at the Castlemartin Range, Pembrokeshire in 2012.

Lt Col Richard Bell and Warrant Officer Class 2 Stuart Pankhurst were convicted of negligently performing a duty.

Col Bell lost one year's seniority as a lieutenant colonel, which could affect future promotion prospects, while WO2 Pankhurst was fined £3,000 for their parts in the fatal incident.

The court martial at Bulford had heard that soldiers on one Pembrokeshire range were firing directly at those on the neighbouring range, who were about 0.6 miles (1km) away and would have been visible.

Ranger Maguire, of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, was one of several soldiers who came under machine gun fire and he was killed when he was shot in the forehead.

The military hearing found that Cpt Price showed a "total disregard for safety".

Image caption The Castlemartin base covers 2,400 hectares on the Pembrokeshire coast

Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, had told the trial that such was Price's "total disregard for the safety of his men that a public beach 3km away and anyone on it was put at risk of being hit, such was the range of the weapons being used".

"It's fortunate there were not more casualties," he added.

Bell and Pankhurst helped organise the May 2012 drill and an inquest held in 2013 ruled Ranger Maguire was unlawfully killed.

They were convicted after the trial was told they failed to attend a reconnaissance of the range when preparing a Range Action Safety Plan and placed targets too close together.

Known to his Army friends as High Tower - due to being 6ft 7in tall (2m) - Ranger Maguire went to school at St Goban's College, near Bantry, in County Cork.

The soldier joined his regiment in May 2010, and had served in Afghanistan.

In a victim impact statement read to the court martial, the brother of Ranger Maguire said the soldier "should still be alive".

"We did not want someone to go to prison or lose their careers…. we take no comfort in the verdicts no matter what they are. It will not bring Mike back," said Jimmy Maguire.

He said the ranger's family, from Bantry, County Cork, in the Republic of Ireland, were still coming to terms with the loss and the "needlessness" of it.

Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption Ranger Maguire was hit in the head by a stray bullet as he stood in a field

Mathew Sherratt QC, who was representing Price, said the officer had recently married, had a 10-year-old stepson, and had urged the court to impose a suspended sentence.

"It was his dream to be in the regiment. He accepts that is finished and that is huge punishment," he said.

After the hearing, Puneet Rai, representing Col Bell, said it was accepted by the Ministry of Defence that there were failings in the system which contributed to the soldier's death.

"Since the day of this incident Col Bell has made it his personal crusade to make sure that the failings within the system are challenged," she said.

Speaking after the hearing, Col Marcus Simson, of the Army Personnel Services Group, offered his condolences to Ranger Maguire's family.

"What happened in May 2012 at Castlemartin ranges should not have occurred," he said.

The colonel added that training procedures at the time had been "fit for purpose" - but "we must always look to improve and we have learned from the tragic and unnecessary incident and have tightened them further."

More on this story