Bureaucracy to cancel march cost soldiers’ lives

Cpl Dunsby was one of three men who died trying to complete a 16-mile march over mountainous terrain on one of the hottest days of the year. Pictures: PA
Cpl Dunsby was one of three men who died trying to complete a 16-mile march over mountainous terrain on one of the hottest days of the year. Pictures: PA
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An army officer told a grieving family it would have been “too much paperwork” to cancel a special forces selection march which led to three deaths, a coroner has heard.

The unnamed commanding officer is alleged to have made the remark to relatives of Lance Corporal Craig Roberts shortly after they had viewed his body in a mortuary.

An inquest into the deaths of L/Cpl Roberts, L/Cpl Edward Maher and Corporal James Dunsby has heard that the men collapsed on the Brecon Beacons in South Wales on one of the hottest days of 2013.

In a statement read by her lawyer, L/Cpl Roberts’ mother Margaret questioned why the 24-year-old was “sent up there in that heat” on 13 July.

The family of L/Cpl Roberts, who was working as a teaching assistant, were informed of his death at 11:30pm on the day of the exercise, which was to select SAS reservists.

Family members said they later visited a hospital in South Wales, where they asked a commanding officer whether the timing of the march could have been changed.

“He replied, ‘There would be too much paperwork’,” the family statement added.

“We were so angry with this answer. We were being told that the march wasn’t cancelled to save on paperwork.”

L/Cpl Roberts joined the army reserves while studying Leicester University and had also worked as a fitness instructor.

Described as being very patriotic, the banking and finance graduate served with the Royal Anglian Regiment in Cyprus before informing family members that he wished to be selected for the reserve special forces.

The inquest, being heard in Solihull, West Midlands, is expected to last up to four weeks and to examine risk-assessments, briefings and the amount of water given to soldiers before the 16-mile march.

L/Cpl Roberts, originally from Penrhyn Bay, Conwy, was pronounced dead on the mountainside, while L/Cpl Maher and Corporal Dunsby, both 31, were taken to hospital.

L/Cpl Maher, who was born in Winchester, died later the same day in Merthyr Tydfil’s Prince Charles Hospital.

Cpl Dunsby, from Bath, Somerset, died on 30 July after being transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

Earlier, the widow of Cpl Dunsby, who was an analyst for the Ministry of Defence, described him as tall, dark and handsome. She added he was “charming”, with many friends and “an exceptional all-rounder”, gifted academically and at sports.

Bryher Dunsby also said the Afghanistan veteran was extremely fit, a trained combat medic and first joined the British Army as a reserve in 2005, having previously served with the Australian army.

She said Cpl Dunsby, a University of Sussex graduate, had been “a delightful, eccentric mix between Flashman, a PG Wodehouse novel, and a Noel Coward play”.

“He loved the British Army,” added Mrs Dunsby. At one point, she paused in her evidence, turned to the coroner and said: “I have to do right by him.”

The inquest heard that 
L/Cpl Maher was a former full-time army soldier with the Royal Green Jackets who was no stranger to working in hot climates.

The inquest continues.