Newspaper reports would have us believe that the British Army may soon have to stop training. Apparently, a lot of their equipment is dangerous and may contravene Health and Safety regulations. Yes indeed, it is only a matter of time until a carelessly placed pinkie finger is cut off by the moving bolt mechanism of a machine gun. And all those tanks racing around with inadequate rear-view mirrors – an accident waiting to happen. Now, it’s not unknown for the newspapers to exaggerate a little for the sake of a story. British readers may remember all the stories about supposedly crazy EEC regulations that dictated how much curve there could be in a banana and similar flights of fancy. The stories about the British Army were triggered by a Welsh coroner’s comments regarding the deaths of two part-time soldiers from suspected heatstroke during the final selection tests for the Special Air Service. The coroner, Louise Hunt, suggested that the deaths of Edward Maher and Craig Roberts’s may have involved a violation of Section Two of the Human Rights Act. Last month, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled the Government had a duty to ensure soldiers’ human rights were protected, even in the heat of battle. Being a soldier is inherently dangerous. It used to be that the British Army lost more men during training exercises in Germany in a given year than it did in Northern Ireland. There may well be questions to be asked about the selection march that claimed the lives of the two men and saw four other suspected heat casualties. Everyone knows that the candidates will often push themselves harder than they should and maybe someone should have pulled these guys out. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the days when officers and N.C.O.’s could get away with acts of incredible negligence by hiding behind Crown Immunity. But perhaps things are swinging too far the other way. Maybe soon the only battles the British Army will be allowed to fight will be in courts of law.
* James Dunsby, a third part-time soldier trying out for the SAS at the same time as Maher and Roberts died after this was blog entry was written.