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Inquest concludes a tank barrel flaw was responsible for deaths

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A CORONER has reached the conclusion that a fatal explosion in a British Army tank was the result of a design flaw in the gun barrel, allowing highly unstable gases to escape into a tank crew’s turret.

The incident at Castlemartin Range 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.

Louise Hunt, the Senior Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said the ‘main cause’ was that the gun could still be fired even when a key component, the bolt vent axial (BVA), which prevents 3,000C explosive gases from entering the crew turret, was missing.

She said: “The main cause of this incident was the tank being able to fire without the BVA assembly being present.
“During production and manufacture of the gun, this hazard was not adequately considered or investigated and therefore the ability of the gun to fire without the BVA present … went undetected.”

Ms Hunt went on to add that there were ‘other issues which contributed to the incident’, citing a lack of written procedures regarding equipment drills and communication, specifically the handing over of vehicles to new crews and the handling of the BVA.

These conclusions were reached following a lengthy inquest detailing the events.

It had previously been heard how the air-tight BVA was not in place at the time of the fatal blast. The inquest also found that there had not been a set procedure to check for said equipment, as well as an unknown flaw in the system which allowed the gun to fire without the BVA in place. Four high explosive ammunition bags, referred to as ‘bag charges’, which are used to propel the shell when firing, were found to be ‘incorrectly stowed’.

The Coroner concluded: “Failure to correctly stow charges caused a secondary explosion following failure of the breech block due to the absence of the BVA assembly, and the practice of un-stowed charges was routine.”

Ms Hunt heard several soldiers provide evidence that charges were sometimes stored outside of the heat-proof storage bins within the turret, notably referring to storage ‘on a soldier’s lap’.

Tank Commander that day was Cpl Darren Neilson, a father-of-one from Preston, Lancashire. He was thrown from the turret during the blast, while Cpl Hatfield, also a father, from Amesbury, Wiltshire, was loading ammunition. Both were evacuated from the scene of the blast, but died later of the injuries sustained.

The other two passengers, Warrant Officer Stuart Lawson and Trooper Michael Warren, were injured but survived.

Cpls Neilson and Hatfield were both highly-trained gunnery instructors that had served with the Royal Tank Regiment in Tidworth, Wiltshire, as well as seeing active combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. They had taken WO Lawson for a ‘guest shoot’, as he had asked permission to go out and fire a tank.

Yet the inquest heard, that according to Army rules, the Royal Tank Regiment Commanding Officer Lt Col Simon Ridgway was supposed to have written authorisation from a more senior officer for the guest shoot, but he told the coroner that he ‘had not appreciated that at the time’.

Lt Col Ridgway also ‘failed’ to recognise a culture incorrectly storing high explosive charges in the tank turrets. When asked if the incident represented a failure of his leadership during his evidence, Lt Col Ridgway, a veteran of Iraq, said: “I think I failed to identify it was happening. I’m not sure it’s a failure of leadership.

“I have to admit I sort of felt physically sick when I heard people were stowing them out of the bins.

“If for one moment I suspected they were storing them incorrectly, I would have been furious.”

The inquest went on to hear that Lt Col Ridgway didn’t know that the ‘guest shoot’ was happening that day, and so had not passed down his order for WO Lawson to ‘sit on his hands’, and make sure to leave firing to the tank commander.

The inquest found that a basic whiteboard was used to assign crews and tank activities, but it was not routinely updated. The Army said that drill sand training procedure has been updated since the blast.

A report containing three recommendations has been sent out to the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems, which had designed and constructed the main battle tank of the Army, with the aim of preventing further accidents.

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Narberth: Two men wanted in connection with assault

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POLICE are investigating an allegation of assault which occurred just before 1pm on Wednesday (Aug 15) in  C.K.’s supermarket car park in Narberth.

A 61-year-old male was injured and checked over by the ambulance service.

The two male suspects are described as being 17/18 years old, one approx. 6ft tall with blonde hair and one a shorter, stocky built male. Both were wearing black hoodies.

Anyone who witnessed the incident or anyone with information that can help officers with their investigation is asked to report it by calling 101.

If you are Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.”

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Pembrokeshire rural crime team launched

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FROM investigating reports of agricultural theft, to helping ensure the mental health of farmers is supported, Dyfed-Powys Police’s newest rural crime team is set to tackle a host of issues in Pembrokeshire.

Coming from farming and horsing backgrounds in the county, with knowledge of the issues and concerns these communities face, PC Gerwyn Davies and PCSO Jude Parr are a perfect match for the role.

The Pembrokeshire rural crime team was officially launched at the Pembrokeshire County Show in Haverfordwest on Wednesday (Aug 15), where they spent time meeting farmers, visitors and rural organisations to inform them of the work to come.

The pair will cover the Pembrokeshire division, dealing with issues ranging from sheep worrying and livestock theft, to offering crime prevention advice and support. They will also work closely with agencies including the National Farmers’ Union, the Farmer’s Union of Wales and the Welsh Government.

Speaking about his new role, PC Davies said: “It’s something I’m looking forward to. I’m a farmer’s son, I was born and bred in north Pembrokeshire and I worked on farms while I was at school. I have the background knowledge of the issues faced by farmers, and having been a response officer for 14 years, I’d now like to be a face for this community and have the chance to make a difference.”

PCSO Parr has worked for Dyfed-Powys Police for 13 years – with nine of those spent on the rural neighbourhood policing team, covering a wide farming and coastal area. She received a commendation in 2009 for her work in establishing a Farm Watch scheme, which was followed by a Horse Watch and tack marking scheme.

She said: “I’m looking forward to having the time to dedicate to schemes like these as part of this new, exciting and much-needed role in the rural crime team.

“It’s all about forging links with farmers and the rural community. The trust had gone, and it’s essential that we build that back up. It’s about getting them to report to us and to talk to us. We want people to know that we are here, and we will listen to them, and most importantly that we care about the issues they face.”

The new team has come as a direct result of the force’s rural crime strategy, which was launched in November and committed to identifying named points of contact for rural crime matters, as well as developing the specialist rural skills and knowledge of its officers.

One of the team’s key roles is to impress on rural communities the importance of reporting crimes to police, so the force has a greater understanding of the scale of issues faced and is able to put plans in place to tackle them.

“I think there’s more of an issue than people report back to us,” PCSO Parr said. “People won’t report theft for example if it’s below a certain value as they don’t think it’s worth it, or that we can’t investigate it. We want people to know that’s not true, that we take all reports of crime seriously, and we will investigate.

“But our role is about more than crime. It’s also about things like mental health and vulnerabilities. Farming can be a very lonely occupation, and you can feel isolated, but people might not necessarily know where to look for help. We will be linking in with vets and people who see farmers on a regular basis so we can signpost those who need help and advice.”

PC Davies and PCSO Parr will undergo enhanced training with North Wales Police’s rural crime team later this month, with a mixture of classroom based learning and time on patrol with officers and PCSOs to get a feel for how the team operates.

PC Davies said: “It will be really interesting to see how the team in North Wales works as they have been running for five years now. They have different issues to us, but I’m sure we will be able to take a lot away from them. We are also looking at what our own team is doing in Ceredigion, and how they have worked over the past two months.”

A rural crime board has also been established in Pembrokeshire in conjunction with PLANED, which aims to increase the understanding of the issues impacting on rural communities, and through work with partner agencies, to agree priorities and jointly address the concerns that are having the greatest effect on rural life.

For further information about the rural crime board, contact Chief Inspector Amanda Diggens or Inspector Alan Millichip by calling 101.

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Pembrokeshire has second most public toilets in UK

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AS public toilet provision has declined over a number of years, it has been revealed that Pembrokeshire maintains the second most public toilets in the UK.

The BBC conducted research on the issue, contacting 430 councils and receiving data from 376. Under the Freedom of Information law, the BBC found that despite a growing population, since 2010, at least 673 public toilets across the UK have stopped being maintained by major councils.

The data showed that UK councils have stopped maintaining around 13% of public toilets in the past eight years, with 4,486 toilets currently run by major councils in the UK, down from 5,159 in 2010. 37 major councils do not provide any public conveniences.

The most public toilets maintained are by Highland Council with 92, followed by both Pembrokeshire and Gwynedd with 73.

Yet Pembrokeshire has still seen a reduction, having 92 in 2010. Ceredigion currently has 34 public toilets, a reduction of 14 in the past eight years, whilst Carmarthenshire County Council did not provide any data.

It is not a legal requirement for local authorities to provide toilets, but budget pressures mean that many councils look to close them.

Others have instead shifted responsibility to smaller parish or town councils, or even community groups that pay for the services through fundraising. These smaller councils then face the dilemma as to whether to close local toilets, or take them on and face a ‘toilet tax’ of business rates paid on the premises.

Yet many feel that whilst there is no legal requirement to provide access to public toilets, there is a moral responsibility.

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