Highlands & Islands

Serviceman killed in exercise at RAF Tain weapons range

Police at entrance to RAF Tain Image copyright Reuters
Image caption About 30 police officers are involved in the investigation at RAF Tain

A serviceman has died in a training exercise involving about 20 personnel at an RAF weapons firing range in the Highlands.

Police said there were no other casualties but the range at RAF Tain, north of Inverness, remains closed following Tuesday's incident.

Police Scotland said 30 of its officers were involved in investigating the incident which had involved a firearm.

The man's identity has not been released at this stage.

Police said he was not from the local area.

Ch Insp Iain MacLelland, of Police Scotland, said the incident had been "confined" to the range and at no stage was there any threat to the wider public.

He said police were working with the military in its investigation, adding that people living nearby should expect a police presence in the area over the next few days.

The incident came during training that had been taking place over the course of Tuesday, Ch Insp MacLelland said.

The senior officer expressed Police Scotland's "sympathies" with the serviceman's family.

Image copyright Ministry of Defence
Image caption Tuesday's incident comes after the death of Pte Conor McPherson in a training incident in Northumberland in August

Earlier, an Army spokeswoman confirmed that officials were handling the incident.

She said: "We are aware of an incident at the Tain base, near Inverness.

"We will release more information as and when it becomes available. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this point."

Image caption Ch Insp Iain MacLelland said the incident involving a firearm was confined to the range

Prime Minister Theresa May and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have expressed their condolences to the serviceman's family and friends.

Local politicians have described the incident as a "tragedy".

The incident comes two months after a Scottish soldier's death during training at Otterburn, Northumberland.

Pte Conor McPherson, 24, from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, died after suffering a "serious head wound".

He was from Paisley, Renfrewshire.

From BBC Scotland's Craig Anderson outside the range

Tain is one of only a few ranges of its type in the UK and it is mainly the RAF that uses it. It's on a very large piece of land and stretches along the Dornoch Firth.

It's used by the RAF, the US Air Force and other Nato forces in training their pilots in bombing. They use dummy bombs with very small detonators and it's basically target practice for them.

Sometimes this place has a very uneasy relationship with the local community, who obviously have some concerns about low flying.

The involvement of the Army in rifle and target shooting here is something that is certainly not talked about very much.

But clearly this is a very worrying incident for both the armed forces and local people.

There is speculation that the casualty might be from 3 Scots, the Black Watch, who are based at Fort George near Inverness, but we do not have confirmation of that.

Emergency services were called to the defence facility at about 17:55 GMT on Tuesday.

RAF Tain is a long-established, large air weapons range on the Dornoch Firth, about three miles east of the town of Tain.

It is used for the majority of the time by the RAF - in particular Tornado and Typhoon fast jets that operate out of RAF Lossiemouth in Moray - and the Army also uses the site, which has a rifle range and small arms range.

The US Air Force and Nato air crews use the range to fly low as the RAF aircraft do and to attack targets on the site, large parts of which are saltmarsh.

Civilian contractors work with military personnel in managing the range's control tower, targets and clearing ordnance.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption RAF Tain is primarily used as an air weapons range

Ms Sturgeon said: "This is a tragic incident and my deepest condolences go to the family, friends and colleagues of the person who has died.

"It is another important reminder of the often difficult and dangerous job our armed forces do every day."

'Most concerned'

Alasdair Rhind, councillor for the Tain area and deputy leader of Highland Council, told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that the range had a good safety record.

He said: "A number of years ago there was concern by a small minority in the community about the high level noise of the low flying jets, but since the ministry of defence cutbacks have come into force we don't get so much low flying aircraft nowadays and therefore we don't really see or hear much complaints about the range.

"Obviously, we've got to let the police and the military carry out their investigations and I'm sure that we'll get further briefings from them in due course. I would think our community will be most concerned with the family of the person that's lost their life down there and our sympathies go to that family today.

"The Tain range has had a very good safety record. All the time that it's been there I can't recall ever an incident, so I think we've first got to hear the full extent of this incident before asking for any clarity."

Gail Ross, SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, said the incident was a "terrible tragedy".

She said: "My thoughts and condolences are with their family, friends and of those who were involved in the incident."

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