Shot soldier Conor McPherson ‘mistaken by colleague for target’

Private Conor McPhersonImage copyright Ministry of Defence
Image caption Private Conor McPherson died during a night-time “live fire” exercise

A soldier killed in a training exercise was shot by a colleague who mistook him for a target, a report has found.

Private Conor McPherson was critically injured during a night-time “live fire” exercise at Otterburn, Northumberland.

The Defence Safety Authority’s Service Inquiry report identified a number of Army failings in the run-up to the incident.

The Army has said it “deeply regrets” the death the young soldier, which was “a terrible, terrible tragedy”.

Private McPherson, 24, from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, was pronounced dead at the scene on 22 August last year.

The report stated that soldiers using live rounds had been stumbling about in the dark.

Lieutenant General Richard Felton, director general of the Defence Safety Authority, said he could not understand why the trainees were subjected to an 18-hour plus day.

It also emerged the opening day of Exercise Wessex Storm at the Heely Dod Range featured nine different shooting sequences.

‘Test and challenge’

But Lieutenant General Felton said the safety risk present that night “was neither recognised – nor the potential consequences understood – by the Fire Team, supervising staff or Battalion leadership”.

While it was “highly likely” Private McPherson, from Paisley, Renfrewshire, was shot by one of his colleagues, another soldier did not fire a single round because he found it impossible to identify any targets in the gloom.

Lieutenant General Felton said: “The tragic death of Pte Conor McPherson serves as a reminder of the dangers inherent in Military training.”

But he added:” Military training must continue to test and challenge, with progression through a unit’s training cycle correctly adding complexity and greater levels of Safety Risk.

“To not do so would reduce the value of training and the preparedness of our soldiers to fight and win in future conflicts.”

Rigid targets

Private McPherson had already trained in France and Kenya by the time he joined the fatal exercise with colleagues from 3 Platoon A Company 3 Scots.

Their final mission that day was to negotiate a firing range, using live ammo as the infantrymen moved towards rigid targets, without any fixed illumination.

A reconstruction ordered by the inquiry found that the LUCIE Universal night vision goggles and ear plugs worn by Pte McPherson were not cleared for use in this type of exercise.

The probe into the incident has identified eight “contributory factors” that made the accident more likely to happen that night, including a lack of effective supervision of the soldier who fired the shot.

The investigating panel said it is highly likely a solder named only as “firer 2” – a private who had been in the military for five and a half years – misidentified Private McPherson as a target and fired the fatal round.

Colonel Jim Taylor of HQ Field Army, Training branch welcomed the inquiry’s findings, saying: “It has done outstanding work to identify what went wrong.

“In particular, their reconstruction of the events that night has been invaluable in helping us identify what caused the accident and the factors which contributed to it. We are now carefully considering its recommendations.

“We care about our soldiers above all else and we do everything we can to reduce the risks to them as they conduct the essential training required to prepare them for combat operations.”

A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said:”The death is still being investigated and Northumbria Police is working with the Health and Safety Executive and the Coroner.”

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