MoD 'should be liable for prosecution' over forces training deaths

Credit: Families / Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence should be liable for prosecution for the deaths of armed forces personnel killed during training, MPs have said.

The Commons Defence Committee said the MoD should not be exempt from corporate manslaughter laws in relation to training exercises.

The committee said: "The lives of serving personnel are worth no less than those of civilians and those responsible for their deaths must be equally liable under the law."

The report comes after an inquest last year into the deaths of three reservists during an SAS selection exercise found there had been a "catalogue of very serious mistakes".

Lance Corporal Edward Maher, Corporal James Dunsby and Lance Corporal Craig Roberts died in the Brecon Beacons in 2013 on one of the hottest days of the year.

A coroner ruled that neglect was a contributing factor. The Ministry of Defence later said it was "truly sorry".

The Commons Defence Committee found that since the start of 2000, 135 personnel have died while on training and exercises:

  • 89 from the Army

  • 24 from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines

  • 22 from the RAF

In 11 of those cases, the Health and Safety Executive issued a Crown censure - the highest penalty it can impose on the MoD.

A Crown censure is the way in which the Health and Safety Executive formally records the decision that the evidence of failure to comply with health and safety law could have secured a conviction - were it not for Crown immunity.

The committee said the Government should now amend the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 so the MoD can be prosecuted in such cases where there has been a Crown censure.

The blanket exemption covering the activities of Special Forces should also be lifted where there has been "gross neglect", it said.

But the committee stressed that the MoD's exemption from corporate manslaughter should continue to apply to military operations.

It said: "We believe this strikes the correct balance between ensuring the armed forces are able to train effectively but at the same time be corporately accountable for failings in the supervision of training, exercises and selection events.

The MoD says it will carefully consider the findings.

The safety of our personnel is an absolute priority and, while each death is tragic, deaths in training are rare. We are grateful for the committee's acknowledgement of how seriously we take the risks associated with training and that we are moving in the right direction.

Ministry of Defence spokesperson

Madeleine Moon, the chairman of the sub-committee which carried out the inquiry, said: "While it is important that the MoD and the armed services are accountable for all accidents and fatalities it is equally important that they are publicly seen to be so.

"The families and friends of those who have died whilst on training and selection events need to have confidence that that lessons have been learned for the future."