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Army slammed over soldier's death.

Byline: By Daniel Thomson

Army bosses were heavily criticised yesterday [Fri] after a hearing into the death of a North-East soldier who was crushed by a rocket launcher.

The Health and Safety Executive brought a Crown censure against the Ministry of Defence following the death of Lance Bombardier Robert Wilson, 29, of Bensham, Gateshead.

L-Bmdr Wilson and the rocket launcher's driver had been having a playful water fight as they washed the vehicle at the Albemarle [correct] Barracks, to the west of Newcastle, in May 2004.

The father-of-one wanted to dry himself off in the launcher's exhaust afterwards and asked his friend to rev up the engine but, when he did, it jumped forward and crushed him against a fork-lift truck parked two metres away.

The HSE called the hearing after an investigation decided the case would have justified prosecution if the MoD did not have Crown immunity.

The hearing was told how the throttle stop ( a mechanical safety device ( was missing from the multi-launch rocket system which crushed L-Bmdr Wilson.

Following the Crown censure, the MoD accepted the HSE's criticisms and said it would review procedures to reduce risks to staff while vehicles are moved.

HSE regional director David Snowball said all similar 39th regiment vehicles had been checked and a "worryingly high number weren't properly maintained".

He also said there had been poor communication between those using the vehicles and those responsible for maintaining them.

L-Bmdr Wilson's case was the first of two Crown censures heard yesterday. Corporal Thomas Rees, 32, from South Wales, was also crushed between two vehicles, at Teesport Docks, Teesside, in May 2003.

Dr Snowball said the MoD had been "comprehensive, candid and honest" in its response to criticisms and added: "They outlined specific steps they had taken to put right the defects.

"We put to the MoD some very carefully investigated evidence arising from the two incidents and the MoD accepted everything we said and said they were taking positive steps."

He added: "The vehicles involved in these incidents are heavy and powerful and Army personnel have to work closely alongside them.

"The risk of personal injury is therefore potentially high. In bringing these censures, HSE wishes to emphasise to the MOD and other employers the importance of assessing, managing and controlling the operational risks arising from the use of workplace transport."

An MoD spokesman said: "The MoD deeply regrets the tragic loss of Robert Wilson and Thomas Rees in these avoidable workplace fatalities.

"The MoD takes health and safety extremely seriously and is reviewing its controls in place for the mitigation of risks in workplace transport movements.

"The MoD remains deeply committed to ensuring the health, safety and welfare of the members of the Armed Forces, civil service employees and visitors, and we are determined to ensure that the lessons are learned as a result of these tragic accidents."

It is understood the MoD has received claims for compensation from both families and is currently working to agree details.

L-Bmdr Wilson's parents Cynthia and Alan Wilson, of Rectory Place, Bensham, Gateshead, are believed to have attended the hearing.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 17, 2007
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