Coroner considers deaths of two British soldiers in Camp Bastion tent fire
4:19pm Tuesday 20th May 2014 in Latest News
A coroner has retired to consider his conclusions for the deaths of two British soldiers who died in a fire that engulfed their tent as they slept at Camp Bastion.
Privates Dean Hutchinson, 23, who was based at Hullavington, and Rob Wood, 28, were killed when the blaze swept through the Transport Troop tent in the early hours of February 14, 2011.
The soldiers, who served with The Royal Logistical Corps, were sleeping in the tented office so they could respond more quickly when vital supplies arrived at the military base.
Fire investigators concluded that the blaze started in the vicinity of a flat-screen TV, boiler and air conditioning unit and quickly spread - igniting combustible materials nearby.
Following the tragedy, a number of changes have been made to improve safety for troops using tents, Wiltshire Coroner's Court at Salisbury was told today.
Families of the soldiers have "serious concerns" the tent did not appear to have an accessible fire exit, working smoke alarm and was too long, the inquest heard.
Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner David Ridley told the hearing there were issues raised during the week-long hearing which he would consider.
"That concludes the evidence I have had presented before me," Mr Ridley said.
"I did give an indication as to where I am going in this case.
"I am minded there are a couple of areas I want to take on in a recommendation 28 report.
"From the families' perspective, I cannot make recommendations, all I will be asking them (the Ministry of Defence) to do is look at it."
Mr Ridley said the MoD would respond to his concerns within 56 days, with the soldiers' families about to see the correspondence.
"It may be that some of the things I am asking have already been resolved and if that is the case, then great," said Mr Ridley.
A number of recommendations have been implemented following investigations into the deaths, the hearing was told.
Guidance to help establish whether a tent is in a safe condition has been incorporated into the Army Equipment Support Publication.
Colonel Gibson said the MoD had higher safety standards than other Nato nations, though its tents are fire retardant and not fire proof.
"We are practising to a higher standard of fire retardant than all other Nato nations," he said.
"If you move to a standard of fire proofing you would change a whole lot of other factors.
"A fire proof material is inevitably more logistically difficult, heavier, bulkier and less easy to put up and down, therefore less appropriate for expedition operations."
In British safety tests, tent material is allowed to burn for up to five seconds after a flame has been removed, Colonel Gibson said.
"The equivalent American standard allows far longer, 25 seconds as opposed to five seconds, after burn when the flame is removed," he said.
"It is a lower standard."
Ross Fenton, of the Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation, said accommodation used by British soldiers must now have two exits.
"There's a requirement for the exit to be readily available," he said.
Major Edward Cornes, a member of the Service Inquiry in relation to the incident, said it was not always practical for a strict protocol to be enforced when issuing equipment.
Equipment is usually issued through a quarter master who judges whether the person requesting it is "qualified, competent and responsible," he said.
But troops sometimes take out equipment under a "self-help" route, the inquest heard.
Major Cornes said: "There's a risk of circumnavigation of policy.
"Soldiers will be soldiers. In an arduous environment, people will always try to better their surroundings.
"There has to be a degree of common sense."
The inquest previously heard evidence the tent was not on Camp Bastion's asset register - a document kept by the Army and facilities contractor KBR listing all building and structures the US firm was responsible for.
But Colonel Nicholas Freeman, strategic head of the Defence Inquest Unit, said he had been informed the Army and KBR often advised each other of assets not listed.
"It was routine," Colonel Freeman said.
Pte Wood, known as Woody, had become a father to a boy, Noah, shortly before he died.
He was a driver port operator, posted to 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, and lived in Marchwood, Hampshire.
Pte Hutchinson, from Spennymoor, County Durham, was a driver and had seven years' service with the Army.
The inquest was adjourned until Thursday, when Mr Ridley will return his conclusions.