Police investigating the deaths of three army reservists in the Brecon Beacons are to interview almost 100 soldiers as they expand their investigation.
Edward John Maher, 31, Craig John Roberts, 24, and James Dunsby, 31, died while taking part in a gruelling SAS selection exercise on one of the hottest days of the year. A number of other soldiers also collapsed and needed medical attention.
It is thought the group were carrying out an exercise known as the “Fan Dance”, which involves marching up the 886-metre Pen y Fan mountain and down the other side, carrying a weighted pack and rifle, then doing the route in reverse, in a set time.
Dyfed Powys Police launched an investigation into the deaths, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on standby.
A separate fact-finding mission by a coroner is under way, with human rights legislation being used to see whether the soldiers should have been better protected.
Detective Inspector Iwan Jones told a pre-inquest review hearing at Aberdare Coroner’s Court it would take weeks to conclude the interview process.
He said: “Having reviewed some of the evidence, we have decided to expand the investigation. We are aiming to have statements from a substantial number of soldiers – between 94 and 96 – emergency service personnel and members of the public.
“We are still waiting for [all of the] soldiers’ accounts from the army at this moment in time …there have been logistical problems as some of these are now serving abroad.”
On 13 July, as temperatures hit 29.5C, emergency crews were called to Pen y Fan amid reports six soldiers had collapsed suffering heat exhaustion. Witnesses said they had seen soldiers looking exhausted and making a desperate plea for water.
Teacher Lance Corporal Roberts, of Penrhyn Bay, near Llandudno, was pronounced dead on the mountainside, while Lance Corporal Maher and Corporal Dunsby were taken to hospital.
L/Cpl Maher died three hours later in hospital.
Cpl Dunsby, a political science graduate from Bath, was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, but was pronounced dead on 30 July.
During the pre-inquest review – a new hearing designed to update bereaved families on how an inquest is progressing, – Powys coroner Louise Hunt stressed no decision had been made on any criminal charges.
She said her investigation would go further than most inquests, adding that the case was one in which Article 2 of the Human Rights Act would come into play. it stipulates that the state has a “duty to protect an individual’s life”.
Det Insp Jones, the HSE’s Phil Charrett and Lieutenant Colonel Freddie Kemp, of the Ministry of Defence’s inquest unit, said they had no objections. Lt Col Kemp added that army officials were working closely with police and would do everything possible to overcome logistical problems the police might be encountering. Police said they hoped to reach a decision in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service about criminal charges by the end of October.
The court also heard that police, army and HSE officials will meet in private tomorrow to discuss their investigations. Representatives from all three said the primary investigation was in the hands of the police.
Ms Hunt suggested it was likely a jury would preside over the full inquest. Addressing the bereaved families, she said: “It is important to me that you are here. I will keep you informed.”