An inquest into SAS (Special Air Services) recruitment deaths in the British Army, where three army reservists lost their lives in 2013, has heard damning testimony from a former candidate.
He describes the treatment of exhausted and injured soldiers at the training facility in the Brecon Beacons by medical staff as an “outright failure of common sense.”
Candidate 2D (Codename), told the inquest that on one of the hottest days of the year he was denied hospital treatment for serious kidney injuries.
After a gruelling march through the countryside the SAS candidates hoped to join an elite military regiment within the army.
Candidate 2D had developed a kidney condition on the hot day in July, but was denied hospital or other medical treatments. He was offered a packet of cheese crackers and told to go to bed and sleep it off. Candidate 2D was later told his fellow recruits will join up with him and monitor him while they are ‘on stag’.
Three other men lost their lives due to hyperthermia during the march.
Candidate 2D was later diagnosed with serious kidney problems after finally being allowed hospital treatment. Earlier on he was denied treatment and was told the press would have a ‘field day’ if he went to hospital.
The inquest is looking to see what led to the deaths of the three recruits and if future procedures should be changed in cases of a heatwave or other special circumstances. Soldier 2D thinks the test puts too much pressure on recruits with a ‘do-or-die’ attitude.
Another recruit who dropped out of the test march, which you need to pass in order to join the regiment, says he spent three hours in the back of a truck instead of receiving the medical attention he needed.
The Guardian reports:
The soldier was one of at least 10 who became ill during the mountain test on one of the hottest days of the year, but when he reached the camp medical centre he was initially given a packet of Mini Cheddars and told that “his mates” would watch over him.
After finally being allowed to go to hospital, he was found to have acute kidney injuries and his body was judged to be in a “pretty terrible state”.
Identified by his codename 2D, the recruit said his confidence in the army had been shaken by what he experienced and that there had been an “outright failure of common sense” in the medical centre.
Three army reservists – Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, 24, Lance Corporal Edward Maher and Corporal James Dunsby, both 31 – died after suffering hyperthermia during the test in the Brecon Beacons in July 2013.
Their inquest in Solihull, West Midlands, heard a claim that the march was not called off despite the soaring temperatures because of the paperwork a cancellation would have created.
Soldiers have described collapsing in the heat and having to be helped by their colleagues and by civilian hikers on the mountain.
One soldier said he was told to finish the march by an instructor even after a medic advised him he had to stop or risk losing his life. Others have said they tried to put a brave face on when they arrived at checkpoints, even though they felt dreadful, because they were desperate to complete the test.
On day three of the inquest, 2D said his only previous military experience was in a university officer corps. He said he was approached on the street by a “scout” and asked if he wanted to take the test. 2D said he was attracted by the prestige of the regiment and the “fantastic challenge”.
As the day of the march approached, 2D said he was not sure if he and his colleagues were prepared for the heat. “I did wonder whether in terms of heat we were properly acclimatised,” he said.
The soldier said there was an “do-or-die” attitude among recruits taking the test. He suggested there needed to be “very intelligent management” to make sure candidates did not push themselves too far and felt the commanding officer could have adjusted the test march, given that it was going to be so hot. “I think if I had been the commanding officer, I would have made some sort of adjustment to the length of the march or the water [available] or the timings,” he said.
After successfully competing the march but feeling very ill, 2D said he phoned his father, who told him he ought to seek urgent treatment. He stumbled to the camp medical centre, where he was put in bed and given water. A test showed his blood pressure was abnormal.
He said he kept asking to see a doctor but was told they were all engaged. “I asked if I could go to civilian hospital. I heard them say the press would have a field day if they sent me to hospital.”
When he asked again he was told he was under the army’s jurisdiction. One army staff member said the “last thing he wanted to be doing was looking after me”, 2D said.
The candidate said he felt scared when he heard that his colleagues would be “on stag” – that they would watch over him. Finally he was given permission to go to hospital, where he was put on drips and a heart monitor.
A second candidate, 4E, said he spent up to three hours in the back of a truck on the hillside without receiving any medical treatment after being forced to retire from the exercise.
The man said he became dizzy, disorientated and was hallucinating. He managed to get to a checkpoint and was medically withdrawn. “It was obvious I was in a bit of a mess,” he said. “I was told to get in the back of the truck … I was in there for two or three hours. I wasn’t receiving any treatment.” He could not remember being treated back at camp.
The hearing, expected to last four weeks, is to explore issues including how the exercise was planned, what checks were made about the weather, emergency procedures and what water was available. It will also look at whether the exercise should have been aborted when reservists started to suffer.
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