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Trial collapses into two SAS officers charged over death of three reservists

Credit: Ministry of Defence

Two SAS servicemen have been acquitted at a court martial of negligence over a Brecon Beacons march in which three reservists died, after a judge ruled they had no case to answer.

Corporal James Dunsby, from Wiltshire, Lance Corporal Craig Roberts from Llandudno and Lance Corporal Edward Maher from Winchester, died from heat illness on the SAS selection march in July 2013.

The three army reservists were among 78 aspiring recruits taking part in a 16-mile trek through the Brecon Beacons, carrying loads of more than 22kg, on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year.

The soldiers were training in the Brecon Beacons on the hottest day of the year Credit: PA

Two men, known only as Cipher 1A and Cipher 1B, faced a court martial at Bulford Barracks, accused of 'negligently performing a duty' by failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of the candidates taking part.

But Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett told the court martial there was "no evidence that a reasonable serviceman with similar levels of training, knowledge and experience would have done anything differently".

The judge told the families they have sat through the trial with the "utmost dignity and respect" but the deaths occurred because of "systemic failures within the Joint Forces Command."

You have waited for a long time for the matter to come to trial. You may have thought that this trial might have helped you to obtain some degree of closure. But this trial was never about attaching sole blame for the deaths of these three young men on these defendants.

The deaths occurred because of the systemic failures within the Joint Forces Command.

There have been successive people... who have failed to address their minds to the real risks involved in exercising in extreme temperatures, and who have failed to ensure that those delivering the training or invigilating the test were properly trained in all aspects.

I offer you all my sincere condolences and hope that you understand the reason for my decision today.

– Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett

The widow of Cpl James Dunsby's Bryher said it is "beyond unacceptable" there is no official guidance for those conducting endurance training marches on heat illness five years on.

A statement on behalf of the defendants, whose identities are protected by an anonymity order, said evidence throughout the trial showed the officers were "diligent and thorough" and "nobody else in this organisation did or would have done anything differently".

The test for military negligence is whether they fell below the standard of a reasonable serviceman with their training knowledge and experience.

The prosecution said that these defendants had not set up a safe test system for the candidates. The defendants have always maintained that they did their duty diligently and conscientiously and they have now been vindicated.

The judge has set out in great detail how the defendants did their best to provide a safe test system and even how they tried to stop the marches continuing on to the second day yet were overruled. The wider organisational failings that resulted in a Crown Censure of the MOD were not attributable to these defendants.

They again express their condolences to the families of the three servicemen.

– Statement on behalf of officers 1A and 1B

David Dunsby, the father of Cpl James Dunsby said he would "like to see others in the dock".

The Ministry of Defence said it has made a number of changes, particularly in relation to training in heat, to ensure "an incident like this does not happen again."

Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of Cpl James Dunsby, LCpl Craig Roberts and Tpr Edward Maher at this difficult time.

The safety and wellbeing of our personnel remains our top priority and following these tragic events we have made a number of changes, particularly in relation to heat stress and training, to ensure an incident like this does not happen again.

– Ministry of Defence