Inquest into Camp Bastion deaths hears of possible smoke detectors mix-up

Pte Dean Hutchinson, 23, who was based in Hullavington

Pte Rob Wood

First published in News

The soldier in charge of fire safety in the tent in which two of his colleagues died during a blaze at Camp Bastion may have been mistaken in believing it was not his job to check the smoke detectors, an inquest heard today.

Corporal David Williams insisted he had been told during a briefing shortly after arriving in Afghanistan that a civilian contractor was responsible for ensuring the smoke detectors worked.

Cpl Williams was giving evidence on the fourth day of the inquest in Salisbury, into the deaths of Privates Rob Wood, 28, and Dean Hutchinson, 23, who was based in Hullavington.

They were killed when intense flames swept through a logistical centre at the Helmand province HQ in the early hours of February 14, 2011.

The servicemen, who served with The Royal Logistic Corps, were sleeping in the tented Transport Troop office so they could respond more quickly when vital supplies arrived at Camp Bastion.

Eyewitnesses have described smelling smoke coming from the area housing a 32-inch flat screen TV, boiler and fridge and seeing flames coming from cabling leading to the air-conditioning unit.

Cpl Williams told the inquest how he began the tour in November 2010 and was appointed the "fire NCO" for the Transport Troop, meaning he was in charge of keeping the "fire diary".

Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner David Ridley asked Cpl Williams who he believed was responsible for checking the battery operated smoke detector in the tent.

"It was my understanding at the time that the physical checks were done by KBR because we were told they were under KBR contract," Cpl Williams told the hearing.

He said this was "flagged up" at the first fire meeting he attended.

Shown those minutes, which did not mention that specific point, Cpl Williams said he had written that down in his own notes, which he had given to Army investigators following the tragic incident.

Those notes were later submitted to the inquest and referred to "alarms" and not battery-powered smoke detectors.

Mr Ridley asked him: "Do you think you made a mistake about what was being conveyed?"

Corporal Williams replied: "May well be."

The inquest has heard that private contractor KBR was employed to provide the infrastructure at Camp Bastion and had responsibility for maintaining the fire alarms and the mains-operated smoke detectors.

The company was not responsible for battery-operated smoke detectors and this was explained in the "fire diary".

Cpl Williams said the only checks he carried out on the battery powered smoke detector in the Transport Troop office was visual.

He accepted this did not match the guidance published in the "fire diary" of how battery-powered smoke detectors were to be checked.

Asked by Mr Ridley why he did not press the test button, Cpl Williams replied: "They said it was under KBR contract and it could be deemed as tampering.

"To be honest I don't remember my thinking at the time, it could be any number of reasons."

Corporal Williams said that he reported to his immediate superior, Staff Sergeant Marcellus Archer, once every two weeks prior to his leave in January 2011 that staff from KBR were not checking the smoke detectors or fire alarms.

He said that after returning from leave in early February it was "possible" he had carried out the monthly inspection of electrical equipment, even though it was not recorded on any documentation.

Cpl Williams said that in the tent there was a white four-way extension lead plugged into one socket of the blue domestic power unit into which the boiler, TV and fridge were plugged.

Mr Ridley asked Cpl Williams about the dangers of overloading and what information he received about that.

"The only information was not to daisy chain one extension into another and the use of multiple block plugs," he said.

Cpl Williams confirmed he knew also soldiers would sleep during night shifts in the tent but said the duty non-commissioned officer had to remain awake.

The hearing continues.

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