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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 January, 2004, 16:52 GMT
Drowned soldier 'could not swim'
Kevin Sharman was a non-swimmer, according to Army records
A trainee soldier who drowned on a caving exercise had failed a swimming exam just weeks before, a court has heard.

Apprentice mechanic Kevin Sharman, who was 17 and from Marlpool in Derbyshire, was among a group of 11 trainees on the trip to one of Wales' most dangerous underground cave pools in July 2002.

The Swansea Crown Court jury heard the instructor who led the recruits told them they would be "facing their dragons" on the adventure training course.

Civilian army instructor Matthew Doubtfire, 33, from Monmouth, denies manslaughter because of gross negligence after the drowning at the Porth-yr-Ogof caves in the Brecon Beacons.

Two instructors had been due to take the recruits, who were on a week's training at the Sennybridge Army Training Camp near Brecon, on an adventure course through the caves, but one had dropped out through ill-health.

But Mr Sharman, who had been in the Army two months, was a complete non-swimmer, the court was told.

"As part of his basic training Kevin had to swim 200 metres and tread water for two minutes. He failed," said Christopher Vosper, prosecuting.

"He did not swim at all, and on his army records 'non-swimmer' is recorded against his name."

Matthew Doubtfire arriving at court
Matthew Doubtfire is a qualified caver
He described how the group of recruits were taken to the Porth-yr-Ogof cave complex, where many people had previously died, and spent a morning caving.

At lunchtime, Mr Doubtfire said that they would be swimming in the afternoon, and told Sharman to practice during lunch, said Mr Vosper.

"Before setting off in the afternoon Doubtfire told the group: 'We are going to have a bit of fun. We are going to get wet."

The instructor said that the water in the pool know as the Resurgence Pool was neck-high but they would be able to walk through it.

Mr Vosper described how the instructor and recruits arrived at the pool and the defendant, a qualified caver who had been in the complex 53 times, and Mr Sharman went into the water together.

The recruit "seemed to be quite happy and at one point they reached a ledge," said Mr Vosper.

But then he made a leap to keep close to Mr Doubtfire and seemed to struggle and swim for five to 10 metres.


"Doubtfire took hold of Kevin but lost his grip on his caving suit," he said.

"Panic was spreading through the group, but the best swimmers were at the back.

"The weaker swimmers could see the light on Kevin's helmet five inches beneath the surface, but they were unable to pull him out of the water."

A cave rescue team was called, and Mr Sharman's body was pulled from the water an hour and a half later.

"He was given resuscitation in the air ambulance and the hospital. But it was hopeless. He had died," said Mr Vosper.

The trial, which is expected to last up to seven weeks, continues.

Man in court over caving death
25 Feb 03  |  Wales

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