1. ITV Report

'Binge drinking' fears aboard nuclear sub

Royal Navy Commander Iain Breckenridge leaves an inquest in Southampton today after giving evidence into the death of Lt Cdr Ian Molyneux. Photo: PA

Police investigating a naval rating shooting dead an officer onboard a submarine were so alarmed by the crew's binge-drinking that the chief constable was told and he contacted military authorities, an inquest heard today.

Detective Superintendent Tony Harris interviewed the crew aboard HMS Astute following the shooting of Lieutenant Commander Ian Molyneux by Able Seaman Ryan Donovan, who was 76% above the drink-drive limit.

The hearing in Southampton was told the officer was "highly alarmed" by the crew's alcohol consumption and he wrote to Hampshire chief constable Alex Marshall with his concerns. His boss then contacted Brigadier Neil Baverstock.

After talking to the crew, detectives concluded that Donovan's drink intake was not out of the ordinary.

The hearing has previously heard he had drunk 20 pints of cider and lager, cocktails and double vodkas in the 48 hours before he was put on a guard duty with a gun.

Richard Wilkinson, counsel for Lt Cdr Molyneux's family told the hearing that police found "significant" numbers of the crew were involved on getting "drunk out of their minds".

"Detective superintendent Tony Harris was highly alarmed at the alcohol consumption of the Astute's crew and he took the unprecedented action of writing to the chief constable.

"It was normal practice for the crew of the boat to drink heavily while on shore leave, consuming alcohol over an extended period until they passed out and then returned to duty after five or six hours," he told the hearing.

The Royal Navy has since tightened its rules on alcohol consumption before duty.

At the time sailors were allowed 10 units in the previous 24 hours with no alcohol in the 10 hours before duty, which has now been changed to five units.

Mr Wilkinson asked the nuclear-powered sub's captain at the time, Commander Iain Breckenbridge, whether he had any concerns about his crew drinking ashore during the goodwill visit to Southampton in April 2011 when the killing and the shooting of another officer took place.

He told the inquest that he had been told of no concerns about the crew and he had no concerns about Donovan before the shootings and he was "surprised" to hear of the police's fears of binge drinking by the crew.

But when asked if tighter controls should be put in place to check such as breathalysing crew, Cdr Breckenbridge said: "to minimise the chances of a similar event, it's something that should be seriously considered but that's for the policy makers."

Cdr Breckenbridge explained that he believed that most of his crew were responsible and did not drink before they went on duty and were not drunk when they reported for duty.

He said he could not go and check what his crew were doing when they were ashore as they were on leave.

He told the hearing he was in another part of the nuclear-powered sub when he heard the bangs from Donovan's rifle.

"I just knew we had to go in the other direction. Unfortunately we did not get everyone out of the way," he said.

He said he returned to the control room area where the shootings had taken place and said his Executive Officer was shouting "negligent discharge" but he said there had been too many shots for that.

He then saw Donovan was being restrained on the floor by two men, one of which was Royston Smith leader of Southampton City Council at the time.

He was visiting the submarine with other dignitaries and members of the public at the time and a school party had just left.

HMS Astute docked in Southampton. Credit: ITV Meridian

Cdr Breckenbridge said he could see that Commander Christopher Hodge who was shot in the stomach was being comforted and then he saw Lt Cdr Molyneux lying at a right angle.

"I saw a white shirt, two-and-a-half stripes and I thought that was Ian. I saw the catastrophic injuries to his head and I thought, 'that looks bad'."

The senior officer then paid tribute to his dead colleague, who had gone towards Donovan during the gun rampage.

"If he had not done that, Donovan would have had the opportunity to shoot more people. Ian's acts were phenomenally brave."

He said that Donovan never said a word after he was overpowered.

"It was a shocking and harrowing experience to be involved in," he said.

"We could not understand why we missed it. What had we not seen because we were such a close-knit community?

"Sailing back to Faslane there was much introspection about the ability to spot something happening. I think we were saying, 'why did we not see it?'. I do not think we could put our hands up and find an answer.

"I do not think anybody could have spotted what he was going to do but whether he had been drinking and was unfit for duty that is a separate matter."

Donovan, 23, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years after pleading guilty at Winchester Crown Court to the murder of father-of-four Lt Cdr Molyneux.

The navigator yeoman also pleaded guilty to attempting to murder Lieutenant Commander Hodge, 45, while HMS Astute was docked at Southampton on April 8 2011.

The court heard that his real targets, whom he also admitted to attempting to murder, were Petty Officer Christopher Brown, 36, and Chief Petty Officer David McCoy, 37.

Donovan was facing disciplinary procedures for disobeying orders and a transfer for an operational tour on RFA Cardigan Bay was cancelled.

Donovan was issued the SA80 weapon by PO Brown before the shooting incident but he said he was unaware that Donovan was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

Toxicology tests showed that Donovan would have had a blood/alcohol level of 139mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, which is 76% above the drink-drive limit, the inquest heard.

Lt Cdr Molyneux, 36, suffered a single gunshot wound to the top of his head, six inches above his right earhole, fired from 5cm away.

Home Office pathologist Dr Basil Purdue said the position in which Lt Cdr Molyneux was found, lying face down on the floor, was consistent with him rushing forward to tackle the gunman.

A total of seven shots were fired, the inquest heard.