Inquests open into Castlemartin soldier tank deaths

Darren Neilson and Matthew HatfieldImage copyright
Wales News Service

Image caption

Cpl Neilson (left) and Cpl Hatfield were described as “exceptionally talented soldiers”

Inquests have opened into the deaths of two soldiers at the Castlemartin firing range in Pembrokeshire.

Corporals Matthew Hatfield and Darren Neilson from the Royal Tank Regiment died when an ammunition round exploded as they were in a tank on 14 June.

The provisional cause of death for Cpl Hatfield was “burns”, while Cpl Neilson suffered a cardiac arrest as a result of blast-related injuries, the Birmingham hearing was told.

Two other soldiers were injured.

One is still in a serious condition in hospital and the other has now been allowed home.

A police-led joint investigation with the Health and Safety Executive and a separate Ministry of Defence service inquiry are currently under way.

Dyfed-Powys Police Det Ch Insp Ross Evans told Louise Hunt, senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, what happened after emergency services were called to “a mechanical explosion” on the range.

He said it was thought Cpl Neilson, 31, of Preston, Lancashire, was the tank commander and “we believe positioned within the turret” at the time of the blast.

Cpl Hatfield, 27, from Amesbury, Wiltshire, was the armoured vehicle’s operator and was “loading the ammunition in the tank”.

He was taken to Morriston Hospital in Swansea, but the married father-of-one died the following day.

His colleague, also a married father with a young daughter, was taken to University Hospital Wales in Cardiff, but also died on June 15.

Ms Hunt offered her condolences to the soldiers’ families, who were present at the hearing, and told them a pre-inquest review would take place in February 2018.

She said a full inquest lasting up to three weeks would be held in Solihull, in July 2018.

Releasing the bodies for funerals, she said: “I do so, so arrangements can be made for you to have your funeral, because it’s important you are able to start that process.”

Cpl Hatfield’s mother said: “I’m glad now, I’ve got Matthew back.”

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