Soldier died when rifle discharged as he rested his chin on it

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A ‘series of errors, shortfalls and poor judgement’ at an Army weapons training exercise led to the death of a young soldier, a report has found.

Lance Corporal Joe Spencer, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died at RAF Tain in the Scottish Highlands on November 1.

A report by the Defence Safety Authority published on Thursday said the 24-year-old from Hampshire died when his rifle discharged as he rested his chin on the weapon.


Undated family handout photo of Lance Corporal Joe Spencer taken in 2013. A "series of errors, shortfalls and poor judgement" at an RAF weapons training exercise led to the death of the young soldier, a report has found. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday August 9, 2018. Spencer, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died at RAF Tain in the Scottish Highlands on November 1. A report by the Defence Safety Authority published on Thursday said the 24-year-old from Hampshire died when his rifle discharged as he rested his chin on the weapon. It concluded that his death was an "avoidable accident". See PA story DEFENCE Range. Photo credit should read: Family handout/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Lance Corporal Joe Spencer, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died at RAF Tain in the Scottish Highlands on November 1. (Picture: PA)

It concluded that his death was an ‘avoidable accident’.

The report said: ‘Whilst resting his chin on the weapon’s suppressor, equipment or clothing most probably snagged the rifle’s trigger inadvertently, resulting in its discharge.

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‘That his weapon was in an unsafe condition with a round chambered was extremely likely to have been caused by an incomplete unload drill being carried out earlier that day.’

The report added: ‘Whilst the initiative shown by the SNCOs (senior non commissioned officers) in wanting to conduct an SOC (Sniper Operators’ Course) is commendable, a series of errors, shortfalls and poor judgement conspired and ended in the death of a capable and highly-regarded JNCO (junior non commissioned officer).’

It said poor supervision and a failure to follow mandated procedures were themes of the service inquiry report and added that the ‘post-accident response fell short in a number of areas’.


Lance Corporal Joe Spencer: Undated handout photo issued by the MoD of Lance Corporal Joe Spencer from 3rd Battalion The Rifles, who has been named as the serviceman who died during a training exercise involving around 20 personnel at an RAF weapons range in Scotland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday November 3, 2016. See PA story POLICE Range. Photo credit should read: MoD Crown Copyright/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
A report by the Defence Safety Authority published on Thursday said the 24-year-old from Hampshire died when his rifle discharged as he rested his chin on the weapon. (Picture: PA)

Undated family handout photo of Lance Corporal Joe Spencer with Cherycce Connelly. A "series of errors, shortfalls and poor judgement" at an RAF weapons training exercise led to the death of the young soldier, a report has found. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday August 9, 2018. Spencer, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died at RAF Tain in the Scottish Highlands on November 1. A report by the Defence Safety Authority published on Thursday said the 24-year-old from Hampshire died when his rifle discharged as he rested his chin on the weapon. It concluded that his death was an "avoidable accident". See PA story DEFENCE Range. Photo credit should read: Family handout/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
‘We strongly believe Joe would still be with us today if they had complied.’ (Picture: PA)

Lance Corporal Spencer’s family said they were ‘disappointed’ at the report’s findings.

In a statement, they said: ‘We advised the service inquiry president that we were extremely disappointed with the content of the report and raised a number of questions.

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‘We have received no response and are extremely upset to learn that this report has now been made public without any of our concerns being answered.

‘However, it is clear to us the individuals responsible for delivering the sniper training course did not do so in accordance with the mandated course syllabus and requisite rules and regulations.

‘We strongly believe Joe would still be with us today if they had complied.’


Police stand close to RAF Tain, north of Inverness, where a soldier was killed during a training exercise.
Police stand close to RAF Tain, north of Inverness, where a soldier was killed during a training exercise. (Picture: PA)

The soldier’s partner Cherycce Connelly said: ‘The report details far more failings than we could ever have anticipated and to say I am both angry and disappointed with its findings would be an understatement.’

The 24-year-old, who lives in Dundee, added: ‘Joe deserved better.

‘He was not on active deployment in a war zone. He was in training where risk to life should have been minimal.

‘Joe should have come home.’



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