Struggling Royal Marine escaped while CCTV camera 'pointed at the ground', inquest told

Connor Clark was just weeks into his military career when his body was discovered on the tracks adjacent to the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon. Credit: Family photo

A Royal Marines recruit escaped from the naval base where he was training while a security camera was pointing at the ground, an inquest into his death has heard.

Connor Clark, 18, from Norfolk, was just three weeks into his military career when his body was discovered on the tracks adjacent to the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon, on the morning of 12 June 2021.

He had managed to escape the base unnoticed because the nearest security camera was pointing at the ground for an hour and a half.

Major Mark Latham told the inquest in Exeter, a review of CCTV footage that took place after the tragedy showed an operator was in control of a camera at the corner of the base until 2.20am. The same camera next moved at 3.50am.

He said that weeks later, he had seen a still image of the footage and at that point noticed there was a duvet against the fence.

He told the hearing it was a blur and difficult to make out in the darkness. He said it only became obvious after sunrise when the light improved.

Major Mark Latham said there were insufficient staff at the time to carry out all the duties.

He believed the security staff may have focused their efforts on supervising the main entry points during the middle of the night.

Connor's body was discovered on the tracks on the morning of 12 June 2021. Credit: ITV West Country

It was pointed out that the CCTV system is being reviewed and replaced in the near future. He said had the duvet been spotted earlier, the guardroom would have been alerted.

The inquest also heard from Jason Hughes, who is now area manager for the Ministry of Defence unarmed guard service.

He was on-duty as a security officer at Lympstone that night and said there were just three guards working instead of the usual five.

He said that the camera either suffered a malfunction at 2.20pm or had been left in that position.

He said that particular camera was temperamental, but was working perfectly at 3.50pm.

Mr Hughes was asked, "If you assume the camera was working between 0220 and 0350 would it have picked up Connor Clark leaving the base?"

He replied that yes, there was "a strong possibility" it would have done, but he added it also "depended on the camera pointing in the right direction".

Mr Hughes added that he couldn't recall whether either him or his colleagues had carried out foot patrols during the night.

Security staff may have been attending an 'incident at the main gate'

When asked by the coroner Phillip Spinney why someone may have been taken off the role of operating the CCTV cameras, he said there was an incident at the main gate.

He said he remembered three drunk people attempting to bring a female into the camp who was unauthorised and arguments broke out at the gate.

It went back and forth until they eventually drove off in a drunken state.

Background: Recruit given 'so many chances' by superiors after making mistakes

The inquest also heard that Connor Clark had failed a couple of kit inspections but had been re-inspected by an officer and passed, but was then pulled up by an instructor for a mistake during drill training.

He had also made comments about being a "failure" and the "worst recruit" and had also misplaced a blank firing adapter for his rifle.

Marine Charles Dryden, who had undertaken the ROP course with Mr Clark, told the inquest his friend had been criticised by a corporal.

"We were learning the basics of marching," Marine Dryden said.

"During this, Connor made a mistake and the instructor said if he had his way, he wouldn’t have given him so many chances with the previous inspections and would have put him back to the start of the training. It wasn’t his decision, however.

"This was not a singling out of Connor and the instructor had said similar things to other recruits who had made mistakes."

The witness, who is now a member of 47 Commando, said some of the instructors could shout and swear at recruits if they made mistakes but there was also banter.

The inquest has previously heard that, two days before Mr Clark died, he had gone to the sick bay seeking treatment for an injury to his elbow.

He told medical staff he had initially cut his elbow when he fell against a radiator but then had used a knife to reopen the wound to avoid duties.

After the wound was dressed, he had returned to training, where one of the instructors questioned why he had been in the sick bay - causing the lesson to be taught again.

"Connor replied that he was going to put his chit in anyway," Marine Dryden said.

"The instructor replied along the lines of 'While you’re here and getting paid you are going to learn what I am going to teach you'."

The inquest heard that the other recruits were helping Mr Clark find the blank firing adapter for his rifle because they did not want to receive a troop physical punishment - known as a "thrashing".

"I wouldn’t disagree that you couldn’t go to an instructor and get a new one, but I would definitely agree that at that point there would have been repercussions for losing that piece of equipment," Marine Dryden said.

"From what I recall, other recruits said they would help him find it and not say anything due to the thought of the whole troop getting thrashed and potentially losing the weekend leave we were due to get on the Saturday.

"I think there was always a fear that potentially it would not be granted, if standards were not met."

Connor had focussed on fitness during the Covid lockdowns - training daily with his mother, who is an endurance swimmer. Credit: Handout

He also rejected claims that there was a "hostile environment" between recruits and did not remember any physical confrontations.

"It was a high-pressure environment and there was the stress of the course, but I don’t remember physical confrontations," he said.

The witness said he was shocked at his friend's death, having only spoken to him the evening before about his plans to continue with the training course.

"At that point I didn't think Connor would have taken his own life because he was missing at that point, I personally thought it was a cry for help," he said.

"I guess it is hard to believe that a person who I spoke to the night before would do that and seemed OK the night before.

"Obviously everyone was saddened by Connor’s death but agreed that we didn't necessarily attribute that to him being bullied by the corporals or anything like that."

The inquest continues.