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Tank drill procedures changed following Castlemarin deaths

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Died in the incidet: Cpl Neilson (left) and Cpl Hatfield

AN INQUEST has heard how a fatal explosion in a British Army tank was the result of the absence of a seal used to stop highly unstable gases escaping into a tank crew’s turret.

The incident at Castlemartin Range, Pembrokeshire on June 14 2017 resulted in the deaths of Royal Tank Regiment corporals Matthew Hatfield, 27, and Darren Neilson, 31. Two others were injured in the blast involving a Challenger 2 tank.

The inquest heard the two corporals were only in the tank because they were taking another soldier for a ‘guest shoot’.

Monday (Jul 2) saw the inquest resume, with Louise Hunt, the Senior Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, saying a crew of four, including the two deceased, took the tank to the British Army range’s firing point without written permission.

Another team had used the tank earlier that morning, but the bolt vent axial (BVA), which is normally fitted to the rear of the tank barrel, had been removed for cleaning. The BVA would have stopped 3,000C high-explosive gases from shell charges escaping into the tank crew’s turret.

Police investigators said the removal of the BVA was standard practice, as it required post-firing inspection, and it was placed in a box within the tank turret called the ‘brew bin’.

Evidence was also heard the tank shell’s ammunition, known as ‘bag charges’, may have been ‘incorrectly stowed’ outside boxes within the turret.

Detective Sergeant Matthew Briggs, of Dyfed Powys Police, told the hearing in Solihull: “As there was no BVA, there would be no gas-tight seal and the force of the bag charge would have come back into the turret.”

Ms Hunt went on to read a statement setting out what then happened: “At around 15:30, a hissing sound was heard and noises and smoke.

“Corporal Neilson was seen to be climbing out of the commander’s turret and there was an explosion. He was projected out the turret, landing some distance away.”

The Coroner heard that the tank had only been taken out because the deputy safety training officer, Warrant Officer Stuart Lawson, had asked permission to go out and fire a tank.

Major John Poole, who was in command of Castlemartin Range, told the inquest that according to Ministry of Defence rules in pamphlet 21, it needed ‘two-star written authorisation’, effectively from a brigadier rank officer, to allow a non-trained soldier into a tank.

Major Poole told Ms Hunt permission had come from the Royal Tank Regiment’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Ridgway.

Warrant Officer Lawson and another soldier, Trooper Michael Warren, were injured in the tank, but survived the blast.

Major Poole said: “Whether they were trying to show off to Mr Lawson, or trying to get through it [firing] as quickly as possible, I don’t know.”

When asked if he was aware of the practice by other crews, Poole responded: “Well, we’re here because somebody else hasn’t stored charges correctly.”

Family and colleagues of the deceased were also heard at the inquest. Cpl Hatfield, from Amesbury, Wiltshire, had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, being described as ‘truly dedicated to the British Army’, whose greatest achievement in life was said to have been becoming a father.

His fiancée Jill McBride said: “To say that his loss has had a massive impact on us is an understatement.”

Cpl Neilson, of Preston, Lancashire was described as ‘Army through and through’.

His wife Jemma said: “He adored the Army…he served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was my world, my soul mate and hero. He was an amazing husband and daddy.”

Both men served with the Royal Tank Regiment in Tidworth, Wiltshire.

The inquest were told on Tuesday (Jul 3) that such an explosion had never happened before in the history of the tank model’s 20 year service, even during combat operations in Iraq.

Army training officer and tank specialist Sergeant Alexander Ahtom told the hearing that he was ‘not aware of any former incident like this before’ yet agreed with Ms Hunt that a ‘misunderstanding’ was possible when a new crew took over a tank.

Sgt Ahtom conceded that there was no regulation in place to recheck the tank barrels after use, but also said that ‘absolutely no-one’ had raised any concerns.

Despite this, the inquest heard training procedures had changed in the six weeks prior, including checks for the barrel and BVA as part of more frequent gun-proving drills.

Sgt Ahtom went on to tell Ms Hunt that he was ‘concerned’ that drills were not being conducted as expected.

Simon Antrobus QC, representing tank-maker BAE, described: “A whole series of rigorous development trials to look at reliability, firing and manoeuvres. During which thousands of rounds were fired and it saw direct action in Iraq against Iraqi tanks.”

Sgt Ahtom also said that he ‘completely’ disagreed with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) joint service inquiry panel’s conclusion into the explosion. The panel proposed that it could be possible if checking another key part that the presence of the BVA could be missed.

With the tank’s earlier crew, Lance Corporal Thomas Gough had acted as loader, and explained that he had cleaned the BVA, and then stored it in the ‘brew bin’. Yet he had earlier conceded that it was ‘common practice’ to take the BVA for engineering inspection at the tower.

When asked by Ms Hunt why he had not taken it to the tower, Gough said he ‘thought they’d be busy’.

Ms Hunt then went on to ask: “How would anyone know it was in the brew bin?”

Gough, who had been with the regiment six years, then replied: “Well, they wouldn’t, unless I told them.”

Normally, he would tell the crew commander Sergeant Paul Mitton that the tank was completely ‘stripped down’ but he had been busy that day with many tasks and ‘forgot’.

Barrister Mike Rawlinson QC, for Mr Lawson, asked Sgt Mitton: “There’s no system here of knowing where any BVA is, at any particular time, is there?”

Mitton, with the Royal Tank Regiment for 18 years, replied: “That’s correct.”

Mr Rawlinson then asked: “There’s no system for making sure the incoming crew know what’s happened to the BVA, is there?”

Sgt Mitton said: “No there’s no system.”

Mr Rawlinson then went on to ask: “This is chaos, isn’t it?”

Mitton replied: “On ranges, there can be quite a lot of pressure and I think sometimes the pace of life on the range is quite fast.”

Army tank drills have now been changed to check the BVA is present, the inquest was told.

The inquest, which is set to last three weeks, continues.

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Pembrokeshire named the 5th best location in UK for shark spotting

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Hammerhead shark: Might be in UK waters within the next 30 years

IF you’re looking to do some shark spotting then Pembrokeshire has been named the 5th best location in the UK, according to National Geographic.

Hammerheads, blacktips and sand tiger sharks could be heading to UK shores, and may inhabit our coastal waters in the next 30 years as well, according to new research released this week.

The new study reveals Britain’s current and future shark population. It predicts that with the rise of sea temperatures and the impact of climate change, we could see non-indigenous species of sharks from the Mediterranean making their way to the British coastline by 2050. 

Britain’s top ten locations for shark spotting:

  1. Cornwall
  2. Scilly Isles
  3. Devon
  4. Isle of Wight
  5. Pembrokeshire
  6. Caernarfonshire
  7. Anglesey
  8. Isle of Man
  9. Argyllshire
  10. Inverness-shire

Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) recent shark sightings in the UK have been of the basking shark, although three sightings of blue sharks have been reported in the last two years off the British coast, as well as two sightings of porbeagle sharks, which are often mistaken for Great Whites.

Cornwall is the place where you are most likely to spot a shark, with 25 of UK sightings in the past two years taking place here.

In a survey of 2000 British adults by National Geographic, it was found that four in ten Brits admit to suffering an irrational fear of sharks while swimming in the sea.

And with a potential infiltration of sharks on the horizon, more than three quarters of Brits think we’re likely to see shark surveillance and prevention techniques, such as shark nets and shark spotting drones, being used off British coasts in the future.

Despite there being 40 different species of shark currently passing through British waters, more than half of British respondents can’t name more than two types of shark, while 11% can’t name even one shark species. Meanwhile, over 8 in 10 Brits think sharks have been given a bad reputation by the Hollywood film industry.

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Tenby: Police launch operation to lower crime over summer

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POLICE will be focusing on lowering crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour over the summer in Operation Lion.

The initiative involves Dyfed-Powys Police, British Transport Police, Arriva Trains Wales, Great Western Railway, Welsh Ambulance Service, Pembrokeshire Local Authority and local Licensees.

Under Operation Lion, which will run every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday in Tenby from July 21 to September 1, more police resources will be dedicated to the area to help cope with the increase of crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour the town experiences over the summer.

Dyfed-Powys Police has worked with British Transport Police and Arriva Trains Wales to help people coming to Tenby by  train get to and from the town safely. Police officers from both forces will be on the trains and the platform on weekends, to help deal with the large numbers of people who use the service.

Tenby Inspector, Aled Davies, said: “Tenby is home to a variety of tourist attractions and events,  and experiences a huge boost in population over the summer months. The influx of visitors combined with the diversity of our patch brings challenges for us as a police force. This summer we are trying to help people enjoy our unique region by offering advice to help them do that.

“In the past we have seen a minority of people come to Tenby to visit the pubs and clubs,  who then cause trouble due to drinking too much alcohol. Very often some of these individuals have arrived by train already intoxicated, so by working closely with British Transport Police and Arriva Trains Wales we will be able to stop people from getting on the trains bound for Tenby in the first place, if their behaviour is not acceptable and they are drunk or under the influence of intoxicants.

“As well as extra officers at Tenby train station, there will be extra officers on foot patrol around the town from the early afternoon onwards. We are working closely with local businesses and the community to make sure Tenby continues to be a safe and popular destination for all to enjoy.

“We are very lucky to live and work in a place that people want to visit and we welcome visitors to the area to come and enjoy what is on offer. However,  we won’t put up with people behaving badly, causing anti-social behaviour(ASB) and ruining the fun for everyone. The police will be taking robust and positive action against any persons causing ASB, public disorder or committing any crime in Tenby over the Summer period.”

Sergeant Steve Dawkins of British Transport Police said:“Tenby is a fantastic place to visit during the summer, with an array of attractions and events, and we look forward to welcoming visitors using the railway. We want everyone to have a happy and safe Tenby Spectacular, and will do everything we can to help make this happen.

“People shouldn’t be concerned to see additional police officers on patrol during July and August, which is traditionally an extremely busy time on the rail network. Our officers will be on hand to help make sure revellers not only reach the festivities, but also get home again safely.

“While we don’t want to spoil anyone’s evening, we will not tolerate anti-social behaviour or any form of aggression towards rail staff. Anyone who is found to be unfit through alcohol will be refused travel and could find themselves in front of the court.

“Enjoy yourselves, enjoy the summer, enjoy Tenby and all it has to offer, but please remember to keep a clear head – alcohol and railways can be a dangerous cocktail.”

Security Manager at Arriva Trains Wales, Simon Turton said:“We’re looking forward to transporting lots of people to Tenby for what promises to be an excellent summer in the town.

“The most important thing from our point of view is getting people where they want to be safely and as such we will be working with our partners in British Transport Police and Dyfed Powys Police to ensure all our customers feel safe and secure on our services.

“Customers should plan their journeys carefully making a note of last train times and to expect some services to be busier than usual, particularly on event days and when the weather is particularly good.”

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Fishguard: Peaceful protest stands up for LGBTQ+ community

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A PROTEST was held in Fishguard yesterday afternoon (Jul 15) in response to a planned meeting which was intended to host anti-LGBTQ+ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) topics of conversation.

The meeting, organised by the group Evangelists Corner, had been advertised in the town via a leaflet which promoted anti-LGBTQ+ opinions.

The leaflet explained that the meeting would deal with the subject of same-sex marriage and transgender people, as well as their desire to stop teaching LGBTQ+ material in schools and replace it instead with creationism.

The protest was organised in response to the ‘homophobic’ message of the flyer and meeting agenda, and was well attended by various age groups and people of different sexual orientations.

Following the controversy caused by the leaflet, the meeting was cancelled, however the protest went on as planned to show ‘unity’ and ‘love’ which is strong in the community.

Police have received numerous official complaints about the literature and are now investigating.

Following the protest, two organisers of the protest, Matt Townsend and Jackie Jones, met with the spokesperson of the Evangelist group, John Fransham, at Fishguard police station.

There they discussed the issues raised in the literature – however Fransham defended the content of the flyer and the reasons for organising the meeting.

A spokesperson for Pembs LGBTQ Plus said after the event: “Thank you. This all too often is a gesture over-used, underappreciated, and haphazardly used. Today though, I use it with heart-felt appreciation for what you managed to achieve yesterday.

“Yesterday, you all did Pembrokeshire, the LGBTQ+ community and yourselves proud. We turned something that was extremely hurtful, upsetting and negative into something beautiful, positive and almost cathartic. To see you all united with a common goal sent a clear message: love overcomes hate.

“I spoke to many of you yesterday and felt privileged to hear individual stories, reasons for protesting and what yesterday meant to you. We have also been inundated with beautiful photographs. The adage reminds us that a photo says a thousand words – and many words were spoken.

“The public response to the weekend’s  events has been overwhelming. We have received messages of support, encouragement and love from many people at home and abroad. It is no exaggeration to say that your voices were heard globally. To think this happened from a small (and beautiful) town in Pembrokeshire is all the more humbling.

“I was invited to speak with the distributors at the police station yesterday. The police investigation is still ongoing. All I will say is that it was a very emotional dialogue and reaffirmed for me why we had to do what we did yesterday. As I said to the police and the distributors of the leaflet, we are not in any way protesting of their right to their own opinions. When this opinion does cross the line of law and has the potential to incite hatred and put at risk the safety of the LGBTQ+ community, then we have a duty to act.

“We have received a few messages and emails in the last 24 hours stating that the leaflet does nothing to incite hatred and/or violence. However, PembsLGBTQPlus challenges this. The content of the leaflet is such that it has the potential to incite hatred, to the extent that the police are investigating.”

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