Page last updated at 19:09 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 20:09 UK

'Beasting' death soldiers cleared

Pte Gavin Williams
Pte Williams died after being punished for a misdemeanour

Three soldiers have been cleared of the manslaughter of a junior colleague at a barracks in Wiltshire.

Pte Gavin Williams, 22, of Hengoed, Caerphilly, collapsed and died at Lucknow Barracks in Tidworth in 2006.

Sgt Russell Price, 45, Sgt Paul Blake, 37, and Cpl John Edwards, 42, were found not guilty by a jury at Winchester Crown Court.

The court had heard that Pte Williams died after being made to do an informal punishment known as beasting.

During the trial the prosecution alleged Pte Williams was put through an intense session of physical exercise, or beasting, to punish him for his drunken high jinks.

The soldier, of the Second Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment, collapsed and died on one of the hottest days in 2006.

Lessons have to be learnt from this case by the regiment and the Army
Mr Justice Royce

He was admitted to hospital where tests showed his body temperature was 41.7C, higher than the norm of 37C.

Tests subsequently showed he had ecstasy in his body when he died.

Following the acquittal, trial judge Mr Justice Royce attacked the Army for allowing beasting to take place.

He also criticised the fact that the three non-commissioned officers were placed in the dock while their commander, the adjutant Captain Mark Davis, who ordered that Pte Williams be brought to him "hot and sweaty", was in the process of being promoted.

In his summing up, the judge had asked the jury to consider whether the defendants had been "hung out to dry" while Capt Mark Davis was not prosecuted.

Pte Gavin Williams' mother reacts to the decision

He went on: "Lessons have to be learnt from this case by the regiment and the Army.

"This sort of activity should not be condoned and mustn't be allowed to happen again and this lesson must be clearly relayed to those in charge."

The court also heard there was likely to be a board of inquiry into the practice of beasting.

After the verdict the director general personnel of the British Army, Major General Andrew Gregory, said: "The Army deeply regrets the death of Private Williams and my thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.

"The conclusion of the trial allows the Royal Military Police now to conduct a full investigation into his death.

"This will examine whether there were any breaches of military law. A decision can then be made on further action. I am unable to comment further until this investigation concludes."

'Fight for justice'

A statement was read outside court from Pte Williams's mother Debra expressing her anger at the treatment of her son.

It said: said: "We are devastated with the outcome of the verdicts today.

"We have come this far, we owe it to Gavin that nobody else's child goes through what happened to Gavin.

"I will continue fighting for justice for Gavin. I will go through my options with my lawyer."

Supt Steve Hedley, from Wiltshire Police, said they had conducted a "professional and thorough investigation" over almost two years.

"My aim was to establish the truth surrounding the death of Gavin Williams, a young soldier, and during this period the investigation team has left no stone unturned in their effort to establish the full circumstances," he said.

'Dividing line'

Patrick Mercer, the former shadow minister for Homeland Security, has previously served as an officer in the army.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live that robust punishments were not necessarily a practice to be avoided in the military.

"There is no place on the battlefield for softness, I'm not talking about compassion, there is no place for physical standards which are below par," Mr Mercer said.

"But there's a very, very strong and sensible and clear dividing line between where robust encouragement stops and bullying starts.

"And that was something that as a former infantry officer myself I was intensely conscious of, with the precious commodity known as my men."

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The Royal Military Police will now conduct a full investigation into Pte Gavin Williams's death




SEE ALSO
'Beasting' - part of army life?
31 Jul 08 |  England
'Beasting' jury considers verdict
29 Jul 08 |  Wiltshire
Corporal obeyed 'beasting' order
16 Jul 08 |  Wiltshire
Soldier 'died after punishment'
19 Jun 08 |  Wiltshire
Funeral for barrack death soldier
25 Oct 06 |  South East Wales
Dead soldier's identity released
04 Jul 06 |  England

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