The Fan Dance involves the ascent of Pen y Fan and other peaks. Photo: Herby CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Fan Dance involves the ascent of Pen y Fan and other peaks. Photo: Herby CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Ministry of Defence has received an official censure from the Health and Safety Executive following the deaths of three soldiers in the Brecon Beacons.

The executive said, if the MoD did not have crown immunity, it would have faced prosecution over the incident.

Reservists Edward Maher, James Dunsby and Craig Roberts fell ill while on a training march in 2013 over south Wales’s highest mountain Pen y Fan and surrounding peaks. The exercise is part of a special forces selection process known as the Fan Dance.

Mr Roberts and Mr Maher died during the exercise on 13 July 2013, while Mr Dunsby suffered multiple organ failure as a result of hyperthermia and died on 30 July.

The HSE said it will administer a crown censure, the highest sanction it can deliver. There is no fine associated with the action, but once accepted is an official record of a failing to meet the standards set out in law.

The executive said its investigation found a failure to plan, assess, and manage risks associated with climatic illness during the training. The failings resulted in the deaths of the three men and heat illness suffered by 10 others on the exercise.

“Despite its crown status, the MoD is not exempt from its responsibilities as an employer to reduce the risks to its employees as far as reasonably practicable,” an HSE spokesperson said. “But for crown immunity, the MoD would have faced prosecution for the failings identified.”

HSE head of operations Neil Craig said: “Specialist military units rightly need to test rigorously the fitness and resilience of potential candidates.

“Health and safety is not about stopping people from doing dangerous work or being properly prepared for military duties. Military training is inherently hazardous. However, such testing needs to be managed effectively.

“The MoD has a duty to manage the risks during training exercises. It failed to do so on this occasion.

“Since the incident HSE has worked closely with the MoD to ensure it has learned lessons on how it can reduce the risk of similar tragedies occurring in future without compromising or changing the arduous nature of the essential training and testing they need to provide.”

A ministry spokesperson said: “The MoD acknowledges this censure and has apologised for the failures identified by the coroner and the Health and Safety Executive.

“We have made several improvements to reduce the risks on such exercises, and the Defence Safety Authority is conducting a service inquiry to identify any further lessons to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy.”

Karl Turner, Labour’s Shadow Attorney General, said: “There was clearly a total disregard for the safety of the soldiers on this training exercise, and the MoD must be held accountable.

“A crown censure in this case may expose the MoD’s wrongdoing but it does nothing to punish the reckless behaviour which cost these three young men their lives, or prevent it happening again.

“We need to look at whether vicarious liability laws should apply in cases like this, and we have to ensure that no more brave soldiers die as a result of what is essentially corporate negligence on the MoD’s part.”

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