Army officers win appeal to save their careers after accidentally shooting Bury soldier dead in training

James Wilkinson

James Wilkinson

First published in News

Two army officers who were locked up for negligence after a young soldier from Bury was accidentally shot dead on a training exercise have saved their careers after winning appeals today.

Newly-wed fusilier, James Wilkinson, aged 21, of Whitefield, was tragically killed by machine gun fire during a mock battle in training with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Kenya.

Last summer, Corporal Colin Bell, 30, and Staff Sergeant Patrick Price, 43, were given sentences of 14 months and 21 months, respectively, at a court martial for negligently performing a duty.

They both appealed earlier this month and today won cuts in their sentences and saw orders throwing them out of the forces quashed. Instead they will both be reduced to the rank of private.

Appeal judge, Lord Justice Pitchford, said reducing the men to the ranks was sufficient.

'While we accept that the consequence of the appellants' negligence was both extremely serious and tragic, we do not concur in the view that these offences could be regarded as at or near the most serious of their kind,' he said.

'In our judgment, theirs was not a reckless disregard for safety but a failure under pressure of circumstances to recognise a danger which, in other circumstances, would have been clear to them.

'A sufficient sentence for Price would have been 15 months' detention. In the case of Bell, we shall quash the sentence of 14 months' detention and substitute a period of 12 months detention.

'In both cases, we quash the sentence of dismissal from HM service and substitute an order that the appellant be reduced to the rank of private soldier.'

The judge dismissed an appeal by Price against his conviction.

Recently married Pte Wilkinson, who left a widow living on the Isle of Wight, was killed when a malfunctioning machine gun accidentally fired.

Price was a supervisor on the exercise, while it was Bell holding the weapon when it went off.

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