08 May 2024

MoD censured over soldier’s death on training exercise in 2016

08 May 2024

The Ministry of Defence has been censured with the maximum sanction from the Health and Safety Executive following the death of a soldier who was accidentally shot during a night-time training exercise.

Conor McPherson, 24, a private in the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, died while training at the Heely Dod firing range in Otterburn, Northumberland, on August 22 2016.

His father described him as a “model son” and said the family have been left facing a future of “deep sorrow”.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said Pte McPherson was part of a team of five when he was accidentally shot in the back of the head by a fellow soldier at around 11pm.

The 24-year-old, from Paisley, died at the scene.

The group had been shooting at remote controlled targets as they manoeuvred on foot through the moorland firing range and were using live rounds and night vision technology at the time.

An HSE investigation found the MoD (Army) failed to properly implement a safe system of work for the exercise.

It has issued the MoD with a Crown censure and said by accepting the censure, the MoD admitted breaching health and safety at work rules.

Not to see Conor grow and find love and give us grandchildren is very sad. He would have been a fabulous father and as our only son there is no-one to carry on the family name

HSE inspector Jonathan Wills said: “Our thoughts are with the family of Private McPherson, with whom we have remained in close contact.

“Just like any other employer, the MoD has a responsibility to reduce dangers to its personnel, as far as it properly can.”

The HSE investigation found the planning and conduct of the exercise were poor, with an ineffective system to monitor the management arrangements mandated within the MoD’s own procedures.

HSE said there should have been an additional supervisor with the firers on the night of the incident, due to the soldiers’ lack of experience when carrying out night-time firing.

Mandated “night-time” specific safety tasks were not carried out prior to firing commencing and incorrect and unauthorised night vision equipment was being used by some soldiers, it found.

Officers who were not sufficiently experienced in controlling such an activity and were not properly mentored or supervised to deal with an exercise of such complexity, HSE said.

Neil McPherson, Conor’s father, said the family are still struggling to come to terms with his death.

In his victim personal statement, he said: “Conor was a model son. He did not drink or smoke and he loved his family life. He loved books and his PC games and Saturday night films on TV.

“On the night Conor died, it was every parent’s worst nightmare. A knock at the door, two men in suits bearing news that we had lost our son. I think we both went into shock but the memories of it all are blurred.

“The future is one of deep sorrow. Not to see Conor grow and find love and give us grandchildren is very sad. He would have been a fabulous father and as our only son there is no-one to carry on the family name.

“Socially, I don’t go out much anymore and Betty (Conor’s mother) hardly ever goes out socially except for a meal. I myself could not go back to work after Conor’s death. I don’t think I want to work anymore as I tend to shun being around groups of people.

“Betty and I have many pictures that to date I cannot bear to look at, although we often reminisce together. We also both have one of Conor’s dog tags each which we wear on a chain.”

The MoD cannot face prosecution in the same way as non-Government bodies and a Crown censure is the maximum sanction for a Government body that HSE can bring.

There is no financial penalty associated with Crown censure, but once accepted is an official record of a failing to meet the standards set out in law.

Responding to the HSE’s findings, Lieutenant General Dame Sharon Nesmith said: “I, on behalf of the Army, am deeply sorry for failing Pte Conor McPherson. I unreservedly apologise to his family for Conor’s tragic death.

“We 100% accept the Health and Safety Executive findings. We failed to plan, organise, control and monitor the critical safety aspects of this live firing training event.

“Conor’s death was preventable. We care hugely about our soldiers – above all else their health and wellbeing – on this occasion we got it very wrong.

“We have addressed each of the failings. We took action in the immediate aftermath and have continued to apply lessons since. We very much regret Conor’s death. His legacy will be our continual drive to do better.

“On behalf of the MoD and the Army, I offer my sincere condolences to his family and friends.”

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