Saturday 23 June 2018

Captain accused over soldier death was pick of the platoon, trial told

Ranger Michael Maguire was fatally shot in May 2012.

Captain Jonathan Price is accused of killing a young soldier (Ben Birchall/PA)
Captain Jonathan Price is accused of killing a young soldier (Ben Birchall/PA)

By Rod Minchin, Press Association

An Army officer accused of killing a young soldier during a live ammunition training exercise was the “pick” of his fellow platoon commanders, a court martial has heard.

Captain Jonathan Price, 32, is charged with the manslaughter by gross negligence of Ranger Michael Maguire, 21, through his failure to set up and supervise a safe exercise.

Rgr Maguire, of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, was fatally shot in the head after coming under machine gun fire during the exercise at the Castlemartin Training Area in Pembrokeshire in May 2012.

Also facing court martial are Lieutenant Colonel Richard Bell, 45, who at the time was the commanding officer of C Company, and Staff Sergeant Stuart Pankhurst, 40, who are both accused of negligently performing a duty.

They are accused of having “had a total disregard for the safety” of their men.

The court in Bulford, Wiltshire, has previously heard that soldiers on one range were firing directly at those on the neighbouring range, who were about 1km away and would have been visible.

Giving evidence, Major Graham Muir, who at the time was second in command of C Company, said: “If I had handpicked someone to take over from me, he (Capt Price) would have been the one.

“He was the pick of the platoon commanders that we had in the company at the time.”

Asked about working with Lt Col Bell in C Company, Maj Muir said: “From a personal point of view during the short time I was his second in command I felt I learned a lot.”

The court also heard that Capt Price had passed infantry training courses to run live firing ranges but his report noted he required “increasing levels of supervision” for planning exercises.

Brigadier Colin Weir, who at the time of Rgr Maguire’s death was the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, said he did not see the report on Capt Price.

“There were no concerns raised,” Brig Weir told the court.

“I would have given appropriate advice to the company commander. I would have been surprised that I had not seen it and I would be interested to know why I had not seen it.

“A report such as this is important in terms of a young officer’s career development. I would have expected his company commander to go to the Infantry Battle School or the battalion second in command in order to get to see the report.”

Brig Weir confirmed he had ordered Lt Col Bell to attend training with 16 Air Assault Brigade rather than attend the exercise at Castlemartin, leaving Maj Muir in command.

Nadim Bashir, defending Lt Col Bell, suggested to Brig Weir that his client had told him that Capt Price would be running the range and would be assisted by a company sergeant major.

“It was a very long time ago and I have no recollection of it,” Brig Weir replied.

Mr Bashir asked: “I am going to suggest that you repeated the point that the platoon commanders could ‘crack on with it’.”

Brig Weir replied: “That’s not the sort of language I would use.”

The prosecution allege Capt Price failed to attend a recce of the range when preparing a Range Action Safety Plan (Rasp), that he placed targets too close together and he failed to “deconflict” the two exercises.

Lt Col Bell, the senior planning officer, is accused of failing to review or counter-sign the Rasp produced by Capt Price and failing to supervise or support him.

Staff Sgt Pankhurst, who was supervising the exercise involving Rgr Maguire on Range 10A, is accused of failing to “express any caution or concern” despite having attended the recce and having knowledge of the extent of the adjacent shooting on Range 10B.

Rgr Maguire, from County Cork, Ireland, was shot in the forehead and killed. He had joined the battalion in May 2010 and had completed a tour of Afghanistan.

All three defendants deny the charges and the trial before a board of seven senior officers continues.

Press Association

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