The father of a Scottish soldier who died on an “unsafe” army test march that should have never have taken place is bringing a civil action for corporate manslaughter against the Ministry of Defence.
Phillip Hoole announced the move after an inquest into the death of his son, Corporal Joshua Hoole, found “very serious” training and planning failings at every level surrounding the exercise on a hot day in July 2016.
Concluding the inquest yesterday, senior Birmingham coroner Louise Hunt also told the army she had “grave concerns” about its “ability to learn from previous mistakes” after similar failings were identified following an SAS selection march in 2013.
Cpl Hoole, described as “fit, capable and determined”, died within an hour of collapsing 400m from the end of an annual fitness test (AFT) at Brecon in Wales on 19 July 2016.
Reacting to the inquest’s narrative conclusion, Mr Hoole said: “I intend to take out a civil action against the MoD for corporate manslaughter.”
The death of 26-year-old Cpl Hoole, from Ecclefechan, near Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway, came three years after three army reservists suffered fatal heat illness during an SAS selection march in the Brecon Beacons.
He had previously deployed to Afghanistan and was serving with 1 Rifles.
The inquest into Cpl Hoole’s death heard soldiers were aware it was to be “the hottest day of the year” and the march time at Dering Lines was brought forward as a result.
Of the 41 soldiers taking part in the march, 18 dropped out, collapsed or were withdrawn – a rate of 42 per cent.
The drop-outs included two who went down with suspected heat injuries, well before Cpl Hoole collapsed.
Rules governing the AFT meant the exercise should have been stopped once heat illness was suspected and had they done so, the coroner found Cpl Hoole would have lived.
However, Ms Hunt identified failings, including “confusion” about who was in charge of the test march, leading to “wide gaps in management and assessment of the AFT, making it unsafe”.
The exercise’s directing staff were also “unfamiliar” with health and safety and risk assessment rules, had “poor” IT support and no budget of their own, operating a “black market economy”, begging instructors from other units, to bolster numbers.
Captain Colin Nufer, officer in charge of the course, told the inquest he took a “common sense” approach to health and safety.
At a 2015 inquest into the SAS selection march deaths, Ms Hunt found there had been a lack of awareness about key health and safety documents, including one called JSP 539.
Highlighting the army’s “continuing” failure in that field at Cpl Hoole’s inquest, she said: “There was a very serious failure on the part of the army to ensure the Rifles’ training team were familiar with improvements in JSP 539 and how they applied to the AFT.”
She added: “The failure of the Army to learn from previous mistakes is a very concerning matter for me.”
Relatives of those reservists who died on the SAS selection march were also in court, alongside Cpl Hoole’s parents.
Ms Hunt ruled the AFT should “not have taken place” in such heat, but there had been a “very serious failure” to check a key temperature gauge before the march.
Heat experts later calculated the temperature had already reached the limit of safe operation at 6:45am, before the march started.