Gavin Williams: What happened to beasting death soldier?

Pte Gavin Williams Image copyright PA
Image caption Pte Gavin Williams was serving with the Second Battalion of the Royal Welsh Regiment

It is almost a decade since Pte Gavin Williams collapsed and died after being subjected to a physical punishment known as a beasting.

On Friday, a coroner recorded a narrative conclusion into his death, saying the use of beastings had been known about in his regiment, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh.

What happened to Pte Williams and why has it taken nearly 10 years for his inquest to conclude?

What happened that day?

Pte Williams, from Hengoed, Caerphilly county, was based at Lucknow Barracks in Tidworth, Wiltshire.

During the first weekend of July 2006 he was involved in a series of drunken incidents, including spraying guests of a senior officer with a fire extinguisher and turning up drunk for duty.

On a Monday morning he was ordered to march across camp by a corporal who had been told by his superior to bring Pte Williams before him "hot and sweaty".

After being reprimanded, Pte Williams was taken to the gym for a second round of intensive exercise - known as beasting - by a staff sergeant.

When did someone realise he was unwell?

The 22-year-old collapsed as he was walked to the medical centre where medics tried to treat him, but he lashed out and was restrained several times.

These were signs of heatstroke, but medics claim they were not told about his collapse, his drunken weekend nor the precise nature of his beasting.

After losing consciousness, he was taken to Salisbury hospital where he was pronounced dead from heart failure as a result of heatstroke on 3 July.

It was one of the hottest days of the year, he was hungover from the previous weekend and had traces of ecstasy in his blood when he died.

Is the Army allowed to discipline people with beastings?

The inquest heard a lot about the Army's disciplinary rules, known as AGAI 67.

It heard those rules state extended intensive exercise - beastings - should not be used as part of disciplinary actions.

Yet several witnesses gave evidence claiming it was used for that purpose at the time.

AGAI 67 does allow for "short, sharp" orders of exercise, the court heard, but not for extended periods of time - usually for a few minutes at the most.

What happened to those who took part in the beasting?

Cpl John Edwards, 42, led Pte Williams on the first march round the camp - after which he felt the young soldier had "had enough".

Sgt Paul Blake, 37, supervised a second round of exercise in the gym after Pte Williams was brought to him by Sgt Russell Price, 45, who gave distressing emotional evidence via video link.

Sgt Blake said the physical training exercises were a "punishment" designed to "embarrass".

The battalion "needed a boot up the backside" and he was the boot, he explained.

In 2008 Cpl Edwards, Sgt Blake and Sgt Price were acquitted of manslaughter after a trial in which the judge claimed they had been "hung out to dry" by senior officers, who must have known a beasting was taking place.

Why did it take more than nine years for the inquest to take place?

A series of investigations took place after the criminal trial finished in 2008:

  • A police report in 2009
  • A further investigation by the Army in 2010
  • A service inquiry started in 2011 and finished in February 2013
  • None of the investigations recommended further action should be taken against Army personnel
  • In 2014 the coroner announced an inquest into Gavin's death would be reopened
Image caption Sgt Paul Blake, Sgt Russell Price and Cpl John Edwards were cleared of manslaughter

What does his family want?

Debra Williams, Pte Williams's mother, has said the Army did not show a duty of care towards her son.

Signs of heatstroke were not taken seriously enough by his colleagues or medics, she claimed.

Ms Williams also said handcuffs should not have been used on her son as he tried to punch his colleagues at the medical centre.

Although ecstasy was found in his blood and Pte Williams was dehydrated from a long drinking session, his mother said personnel should have been more aware of his symptoms.

Judge Large said if "everyone had been told everything that day then medical staff would have been much better equipped to deal with what was going on".

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