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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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New Eco Feature For Haverfordwest

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Plans have been submitted for a ‘living green wall’ to be planted in the centre of Haverfordwest in a bid to enhance local biodiversity and wildlife.

The green wall would be situated alongside the river opposite Glan-yr-Afon, the town’s library and cultural centre, and planted with 25 species of native plants including ferns, grasses, flowers and wild herbs including basil, sage and clary.

As well as providing an important habitat for pollinators, the wall would also be an attractive natural feature in its own right, says Sara Morris, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Development Plans and Conservation Manager.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to re-introduce nature in the heart of Haverfordwest,” she said. “As with all planting, it will take some time for the plants to grow and flourish but given time it will look very attractive.”

The maintenance of the wall, which is scheduled for installation towards the end of October, would be carried out by a team of volunteers. New benches made from Welsh slate would also be installed to encourage residents and visitors to enjoy spending time in the area.

The green wall is part of the Cleddau Reaches partnership project which forms one of the priorities in the Haverfordwest Regeneration framework.

The Cleddau Reaches partners are Pembrokeshire County Council, the Bridge Meadow Trust, Haverfordwest Town Council, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Haverfordwest Kayak Club.

Pembrokeshire College and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority have also supported the project.

The aim is to improve and enhance the rights of way network in and around Haverfordwest and in particular, around the Western Cleddau, through several different inter-linked schemes.

Grant funding of approximately £250,000 has been provided by the NRW, Haverfordwest Town Council and the Landfill Disposals Tax Community Scheme.

Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Leisure and Culture, says the project’s focus on the river follows recognition that for too long, it has been an under-utilised resource despite being one of the town’s key natural assets.

“The Cleddau Reaches project brings together many ideas which the community has put forward over the last 20 years,” he said.

“As well as boosting biodiversity, the project forms part of the wider package of investments we are bringing forward to support Haverfordwest Town Centre.

“This administration is determined to revive the fortunes of the County Town, transforming Haverfordwest Town Centre from a traditional retail centre that’s being left behind into a vibrant leisure destination where residents and visitors alike want to spend their time.”

Some of the work currently taking place as part of the Cleddau Reaches project includes new riverbank paths near the Bridge Meadow with plans to create a new footbridge connecting to the Old Mill Grounds.

Other plans include creating habitats for sand-martins, otters and lampreys upriver, creating a trail linking up with the Town Council’s Priory Saltings project, and installing five interpretation boards along the route describing the flora, fauna and history of the local area.

The green wall planning application is currently registered with Pembrokeshire County Council for determination.

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Homes in Pembrokeshire can get free boilers and insulation

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PEMBROKESHIRE HERALD is teaming up with Blackburn based company Euro Insulation, who are working on a Pembrokeshire County Council backed energy scheme called the ECO: Help to Heat programme.

The scheme intends to utilise government funding for the reduction of fuel poverty within the county.

The council says that it has worked for many years to improve homes locally, and is keen for as many households to sign up as possible.

The local authority is working with ECO energy installers.

Funding is only available for private owner occupiers and private rented tenants. Qualification of flexible eligibility in Pembrokeshire will be determined by certain criteria.

Grants are available to a range of households including those with someone aged over 60, with a child under 5, and homes with children in primary or secondary school, or with a pregnant mother.

The Pembrokeshire Herald is letting as many homeowners know as possible about the scheme and has a call centre open to take queries on behalf of Euro Insulation who will be doing the work.

The aim is to reduce C02 emissions and make homes more energy efficient in Wales.

They are with the Welsh Assembly Government to show homeowners how they can get a brand-new boiler, internal wall insulation and room-in-roof insulation

The funding is only available until December.

To be considered for a FREE boiler or INSULATION call our call centre on 01437 70 70 70

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Fishguard: Armed police presence at Fishguard port

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ARMED officers from Dyfed-Powys Police were on scene at the port in Fishguard this morning (Sept 18).

Border Force and the RNLI were involved in the operation, which reportedly involved a vessel being escorted into the harbour.

Details of the incident are still unfolding, and the police have been contacted for a statement.

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