News Inquests & Public Inquiries 17th Jul 2018

Alex Tampakopoulos Represents the Family of a Challenger 2 Tank Commander, One of Two Crewmen Killed During a Live Firing Shoot at Castlemartin

The family of Corporal Darren Nielson, the tank commander, was represented at the inquest by Alexandra Tampakopoulos instructed by Clare Stevens of Hilary Meredith.

On 14 June 2017, a tank commander and operator were killed and two other crewman injured after the Challenger 2 tank in which they were conducting a live firing exercise exploded causing grave blast and burn injuries.

Corporals Darren Nielson and Matthew Hatfield, both highly trained and experienced Regimental Gunnery Instructors from the Royal Tank Regiment, were conducting a live fire experience shoot at the Castlemartin ranges, Pembrokeshire, Wales. Witnesses at the inquest described the L30A1 gun of the tank firing but failing to recoil, a hissing sound and white smoke, and then the commander of the tank being ejected some 80 feet followed by flames shooting out of the two tank hatches similar in nature to the flames produced by a fighter jet plane’s engines.

At the time of the exercise the crew of the Challenger 2 tank were unaware that a safety critical item from the gun – a bolt vent axial (BVA) – had been removed and not refitted. The purpose of the BVA was to obdurate or seal the rear section of the gun barrel when it was fired. On firing the gun in the absence of the BVA highly pressurised, hot gases were projected into the turret expelling Corporal Nielson and igniting propellant charges causing a ferocious fire which reached temperatures of in excess of 2000 degrees.

At the time of the incident there was no awareness that the gun could fire without the BVA although the inquest heard evidence from an armourer who said that he had discovered that it could in 2006.

The Senior Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull found that the main cause of the incident was the design flaw that allowed the gun to fire with the BVA. She also found that there had been inadequate consideration of the design during production and in particular in light of established ‘Red’ drills which permitted the electrical circuit of the firing mechanism to be made in the absence of the BVA. Other factors that were held to have contributed to the deaths were the absence of a clear procedure to check for the BVA and the common practice amongst crew as to the storage of propellant charges which was neither identified nor addressed by senior officers.


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