Death of soldier shot through helmet at night exercise was an accident

Death of soldier, 24, who was shot through his helmet by a comrade during ‘pitch black’ night training exercise was an accident, jury rules

  • Private Conor McPherson was shot at Otterburn Training Area in August 2016
  • A jury found that Private McPherson’s death had been an accident
  • The inquiry said his fellow soldier ‘mistook him for a target’ during training
  • Private McPherson, from Renfrewshire, was shot through his helmet

The death of a soldier who was shot by a comrade during a ‘pitch black’ night-time training exercise was an accident, jurors have found. 

The verdict was delivered today after five days of evidence into Private Conor McPherson’s death at Otterburn Training Area in August 2016.

An inquest at Northumberland Coroner’s Court heard the 24-year-old, who was serving with A Company, 3 Scots – The Black Watch – was shot through his helmet by another soldier and suffered a fatal head injury.

Private McPherson’s parents Neil and Betty McPherson did not attend the final day of the hearing but the jury concluded that the death of their son had been an accident. 

Senior Coroner Andrew Hetherington told the jury: ‘Neil and Betty, as you’d appreciate, found the evidence very difficult to hear.

‘They did tell staff in the court they felt they have some closure and are able to move on.’

Private Conor McPherson, 24, was shot during a training exercise on the military ranges in Otterburn, Northumberland in August 2016

During evidence at Morpeth County Hall jurors heard that, despite resuscitation attempts, Private McPherson from Paisley, Renfrewshire, died at the scene.  

Private McPherson was one of five soldiers taking part in the exercise at the training ground when a weapon was discharged and he fell to the ground.

The court heard it was the first time his comrade, who was believed to have fired the fatal shot, had taken part in a night-time exercise without illumination.

During evidence given by the solider, he told the court he could not see Private McPherson or the target because it was ‘pitch black’.

A jury concluded that the death of Private McPherson, from Renfrewshire, was an accident after a fellow soldier mistook him for a target

One of the five soldiers told the court he did not fire any shots from his rifle all evening as he could not see anything.

The court heard the targets did not have any thermal tape added to them ahead of the exercise and Private McPherson was wearing different night vision goggles to the rest of the team.

Evidence was heard from Doctor Jennifer Bolton, who carried out a post-mortem examination and concluded the cause of death as a head injury.

She told the court Private McPherson had one significant injury which was a gunshot wound to the right side of the head.

The court was told the injury would have caused him to become instantly unconscious and Private McPherson ‘would not have been aware of it’.

Jurors were also told a Range Action Safety Plan had been carried out ahead of the training exercise but was sent back because it was not sufficient.

A service inquiry report found a number of failings in the lead up to the training exercise, the court was told.

The findings of the Defence Authority’s Service Inquiry were read out in court, with jurors told Private McPherson was killed in what ‘should have been a fairly routine live-firing night exercise’.

It was the first night-time Fire Team Attack (FTA) the team had carried out without illumination, but the inquiry said it was ‘probably too rapid’ and unsettled some of the platoon.

The report said a walk-through of the range was not conducted and soldiers who had already completed the range had struggled due to their lack of experience of firing at night – though concerns were not raised at the time.

The inquiry said it was ‘highly likely’ Private McPherson was killed by his fellow soldier who ‘mistook him for a target’.

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