‘Urgent’ Army heat warning sent two months before soldier’s death, inquest told

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An “urgent safety notice” was sent out from British Army headquarters about the increased risk of heat injuries two months before a soldier fatally collapsed on a hot day, an inquest has heard.

The email, described as routine for the end of spring, was sent on May 16, 2016.

The body of the message had instructions to “please make sure the below is disseminated asap as an urgent safety notice to all”.

Two months later, Corporal Joshua Hoole, described as “fit, capable and determined” died within an hour of collapsing during an annual fitness test (AFT) at Brecon, Wales.

Corporal Josh Hoole funeral
The coffin of Cpl Hoole is carried into Crichton Memorial church in Dumfries for his funeral by colleagues and brother Tyrone, right (Andrew Milligan/PA)

An inquest into Cpl Hoole’s death has already heard soldiers were aware it was to be “the hottest day of the year” and the march start time was brought forward four hours, due to the weather.

On Tuesday, the hearing was told by retired captain Chris Oakes, formerly of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, it would be the job of commanders at various levels of the Army to then “disseminate” the warning to sub-units, including the one running the Dering Lines AFT.

Asked what prompted that email, Mr Oakes, who previously served with the Parachute Regiment, said: “From past experience, I know that come spring the weather is going to change.

“Temperatures change and the risk of heat injuries are more prevalent so I would then send out warnings to brigade HQ.”

Senior Coroner Louise Hunt asked Mr Oakes if he had identified the names of anyone running the AFT that day among the “big list of recipients” on the email.

But Mr Oakes said they would not be included.

He said: “Army headquarters sent the pre-warning to the brigade HQs and brigade HQ would disseminate to all units, and those units to sub units.”

Of the 41 corporals and lance corporals taking part in the AFT that day, 18 pulled out, collapsed or withdrew – a rate of 42%.

The inquest at Birmingham Coroner’s Court has previously heard the average drop-out rate on the same route for the whole of the previous year had been 3%.

But Mr Oakes told the hearing he had no concerns about the average two-year drop-out rate of the training team running the march that day, which was 37%.

Cpl Hoole, 26, of Ecclefechan near Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway, collapsed at 8.52am just 400m from the end of the “eight-miler” loaded march.

Earlier in the day, two other soldiers had suffered suspected heat injuries.

The inquest has heard a key temperature gauge used to determine if it was safe to start AFTs had been “erroneously” located in the shade of the base’s gym at Dering Lines, meaning it gave low readings in the morning.

Exercises are not supposed to go ahead if the wet bulb globe thermometer (WBGT) hits 20C, the coroner has been told.

On Monday, the inquest heard a phone call was made 27 minutes before Cpl Hoole collapsed asking for the temperature reading – but one was not available.

Corporal Josh Hoole inquest
Phillip Hoole arrivies for the inquest of his son Joshua (Jacob King/PA)

In any case, the court has heard it was reading 17.1C, around the time the march started.

Mr Oakes was part of the Defence Safety Authority (DSA) investigation team which was sent to interview those involved at Dering Lines, immediately after Cpl Hoole’s collapse.

Asked by Ms Hunt as to his opinion on how the march was conducted, he replied: “There was quite a few things that should have been done that weren’t.”

He added: “If the temperature was slightly higher, I’d try and take the AFT on a different route, under cover, out of direct sunlight.”

Mr Oakes drew the attention of the DSA team to the May 2016 email.

Joshua Hoole’s father Phil Hoole, from Carlisle, and a former sergeant major, has been representing himself at the inquest.

Asked by Cpl Hoole’s father if it was “good practice” not to have let the march group “shake out their legs” to avoid cramping the lower limbs, Mr Oakes replied: “It’s not ideal.”

He also said an AFT should “absolutely” have had a second safety vehicle running ahead of the march when on a narrow country lane, if there had been resources to have an extra one. On the day of the fatal incident, there was only one such vehicle.

Mr Oakes also said: “Ideally, if I’ve got more than 30 people, personally I have a secondary vehicle.”

The inquest continues.

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