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Hope That Lessons Are Learned As Challenger 2 Tank Explosion Inquest Concludes

Two Soldiers Killed And Two Injured During Incident Which Happened During Training Exercise


Andrew Hewitt, Press Officer | 0114 274 4255

An inquest into the deaths of two soldiers killed when a Challenger 2 Tank exploded has concluded.

Corporals Matthew Hatfield and Darren Neilson of the Royal Tank Regiment died when a tank exploded during a training exercise at Castlemartin range in Pembrokeshire, South-West Wales.

WO2 Stuart Lawson, who was in the vehicle, and Trooper Michael Warren, the tank driver, were also injured in the incident which happened on 14 June, 2017.

Stuart, 39, from Southampton and Michael, 33, of Preston, instructed specialist military injuries lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help investigate the incident and support them through the inquest process.

Following a 10-day inquest at Solihull Council House, Senior Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, Louise Hunt, concluded that a number of factors contributed to the accident:

  • The tank being able to fire without the BVA (Bolt Vent Axial) assembly being present. The production and manufacture of the gun did not adequately assess this risk.
  • The experience shoot was opportunistic with little or no notice given that it was taking place. Individuals did not appear to understand the correct authorisation needed and the procedure to be followed for an experience shoot, as is laid down in MoD documentation.
  • Absence of clear procedures to be undertaken for stripping down of the tank and the handover/takeover process to be completed by tank crews.
  • No evidence as to whether the procedure of prove the gun was undertaken or not before the accident. If the drill was undertaken the absence of the BVA was not noticed.
  • Misunderstanding between tank crews of when the prove the gun drill should be completed.
  • The practice of stowing charges outside the storage bins was common practice and there was no clear procedure to deal with this. This practice was not recognised or addressed by senior officers.

The Coroner made three recommendations:

  • The MoD to take steps to give greater clarity as to when the Prove the Gun Drill should take place.
  • Improved communication on the range as to state of the tanks ie: knowing whether a tank is stripped down or not.
  • Production and Manufacturer – MOD and BAE Systems to identify better processes that apply advanced risk assessment techniques to ensure suitable and improved checks.
Expert Opinion
“The last 10 days have been an emotional time for Stuart and Michael as they relived the events of what happened that day.

“The incident has had a profound effect on them, not only through the injuries they suffered, but also through the devastating loss of two colleagues.

“Our servicemen and women know when they sign-up that compared to most jobs theirs is one with increased danger, but we have seen first-hand that many serious accidents in training could be prevented.

“Obviously military training needs to be robust and realistic to prepare our troops for conflict, but it is vital that adequate precautions and safety measures are in place to prevent tragedy."

“We would like to thank the Coroner for their thorough investigation. Both Stuart and Michael now want the Ministry of Defence to learn lessons from this avoidable incident so other families don’t have to suffer the heartbreak that Matthew’s and Darren’s families have following their deaths.”
Andrew Buckham, Partner

The inquest had been told that an air-tight seal (the “BVA”) designed to stop high-explosive gases from shell charges escaping into the tank’s turret was missing when the explosion happened because it had been removed for cleaning by another crew. However, the four who were in the Challenger 2 when the incident happened were unaware of this when they took the tank out.

Tank commander Cpl Neilson, 31, from Preston, was the tank commander and was thrown from the vehicle in the blast. Cpl Hatfield, 27, from Amesbury, Wiltshire, was loading ammunition.

Both men were married with one child and had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WO2 Lawson suffered severe burns and other significant life changing injuries.

Speaking after the inquest, he said: “The last year has been incredibly difficult as I tried to come to terms with the incident and how life never will be the same again.

“However, in some ways I am fortunate. I cannot begin to think of the pain and suffering Darren’s and Matthew’s families are going through.

“The inquest has been an incredibly difficult and traumatic time but today’s verdict has gone some way to providing the answers as to why the explosion happened and how it could have been avoided.

“Whilst nothing can change what happened that day, all I hope for now is that safety measures are improved so such an incident like this doesn’t happen again to anyone else.”

It is understood the Health and Safety Executive as well as the Ministry of Defence have been investigating the cause of the incident.

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in handling military injury cases.