An SAS selection march in the Brecon Beacons that resulted in three deaths went “terribly wrong”, a court martial had been told, with organisers being accused of losing control of the exercise.
Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, 24, Lance Corporal Edward Maher, 31, and Corporal James Dunsby, 31, died as a result of the 16-mile (25km) exercise in temperatures of more than 31C in July 2013. All had suffered from hyperthermia, where the body no longer controls core temperature.
Two special forces soldiers were charged with negligence over the deaths after a coroner ruled in 2015 that the fatalities were caused partly by neglect, and after the victims’ families pushed for justice.
They are now subject to a military court hearing and face a maximum sentence of two years if convicted.
Prosecutor Louis Mably QC told the hearing on Monday: “The defendants lost control of events and ended up in a position where they couldn’t account for a number of candidates.”
Maher was found, presumed dead, sitting upright with his Bergen on, with a half full bottle of water in one hand and a half eaten chocolate bar in the other, the hearing in Bulford heard.
The training exercise saw participants taking a number of routes, starting at different times.
Maher was on the black route and went through the penultimate check point at 1.22pm, but the fact he was in difficultly was only realised by the defendants - identified at the hearing as 1A and 1B - at 4.10pm, the board at the Court Martial Centre were told.
Roberts, the hearing heard, went through the penultimate check point and was identified as having difficulties at 3.36pm.
Dunsby, who died in hospital after collapsing on the march, was on the red route and was noted to be in difficulty at 4.10pm.
Two other soldiers, referred to at the hearing as C1X and C1W, suffered non-fatal heat illness.
Mably told the court martial that the first heat illness related casualty was at about 11am.
“He came into check point one and spent time under medical assessment and obviously was in poor shape,” he said.
The casualty was suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea, signs of heat illness, and voluntarily withdrew from the march.
Almost an hour and a quarter later, at 12.14pm, a candidate reached check point four on the red route and was medically withdrawn after being diagnosed with heat illness.
Participant C1W reached that check point at 12.22pm and was noted to be unsteady on his feet.
Defendant 1B allegedly agreed for C1W to continue after being told he was fit to do so but would not continue the course in the allowed time.
“This candidate, 1W, never made the next check point,” Mably said.
“He became lost on the hill and became a heat illness casualty and hours after he had left the check point, it was realised there was an issue with him – that he wasn’t moving.”
Soldier 1W was identified as being in difficulty at 3.46pm and was withdrawn from the march.
Another unidentified soldier collapsed between two check points, with a passing candidate activating his “man down” alarm, worn by all on the march, at 12.46pm. He was assessed and diagnosed with heat illness.
“By the time his man down alarm went off and he had been diagnosed, it was clear that there was a heat illness issue with this exercise,” Mably said, adding that, “candidates were struggling”.
Roberts passed a drill at the penultimate check point but was later found unconscious about 1.5km from the finish by another candidate, identified as C1D.
His “man down” alarm was activated at 3.36pm, with emergency services arriving about an hour later.
Roberts was pronounced dead at 5.10pm, with his cause of death later found to be hypothermia.
The court heard Maher was identified as a “slow-moving candidate” at 4.10pm, having reached the penultimate check point at 1.22pm.
Mably said Maher’s tracker revealed he had not moved “very far at all” between leaving the check point and being found.
“It was two hours and 38 minutes since he had left the check point at 1.22pm,” he said.
Maher was discovered at 4.55pm and appeared to be dead, Mably said, adding that a post-mortem examination revealed that his death was caused as a result of the effects of hyperthermia.
At 4.10pm, Dunsby was noticed to be static, having left his penultimate check point at 2.51pm.
He was found unconscious at 4.52pm and an ambulance arrived at the scene at 5.18pm. Dunsby died in hospital on July 30.
The court martial was told that at 4.55pm, a civilian walker activated the “man down” alarm of another candidate, identified as 1X.
At 5.40pm, the candidate was treated at the scene for heat illness and taken to hospital. He survived.
The hearing continues.