HC Deb 07 December 1960 vol 631 cc1247-9
17. Mr. Paget

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether he will make a statement as to the exercise resulting in the death of Marine Greenstreet.

Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing

I will, with permission, circulate a full statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I know the House would like to have a resumé of the facts.

Marine Greenstreet, a qualified cliff leader, was undergoing a routine upgrading course. He and five others were in North Wales accompanied by one officer and eight instructors.

On 30th November, weather conditions being average for the time of year, they set out in pairs on a routine ridge-walking exercise along a well known 12 mile route. All the students had to pass through a series of checkpoints manned by instructors.

In the afternoon the weather deteriorated sharply. Greenstreet's companion arrived exhausted with the information that Greenstreet had been unable to go on. The officer and five other members of the party immediately set out followed by other rescue teams. The weather by then was so severe that the rescue parties became completely exhausted and the search had to be called off at 11 p.m.

At the inquest the local coroner was satisfied that no reckless risk had been taken.

A board of inquiry has been convened.

I would like to take this opportunity of expressing deep sympathy to the family of Marine Greenstreet.

Mr. Paget

May I first say from this side of the House how much we would like to be associated with the expression of sympathy?

While, of course, one realises that in every form of sport and every form of exercise some risk has to be taken, on the other hand, both in sailing and mountaineering, unreasonable risks can be taken and are taken when there is inadequate experience or leadership. Will the hon. Gentleman keep a very careful eye on this to see that in this sort of exercise really experienced mountaineers are in charge?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Yes, I understand the anxiety on this point. That is why I underlined the fact that for each six men there was one experienced officer and eight experienced instructors, which is a very high ratio. This particular walk is not a dangerous one. It is one which in summer is undertaken by schoolchildren in that area. I shall certainly watch the points to which the hon. and learned Member referred and make certain that no undue risk is taken in future.

Mr. Burden

In view of the fact that my hon. Friend has disclosed that a board of inquiry is investigating the whole matter, would it not be better in the circumstances to leave it until after the board has reported? Perhaps my hon. Friend can give an undertaking that when the report has been received he will make sure that it is brought to the notice of hon. and right hon. Members?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

It is not for me to comment on the first part of that supplementary question. In reply to the second part, it is not normal to publish a report of a board of inquiry in the Service Departments, but, if the House desires, I shall make the results available to the House.

Mr. Wigg

While, of course, it would be quite improper for the proceedings of the board to be published, can the hon. Gentleman tell the House the terms of reference of the board of inquiry? Is it to inquire only into the specific causes of this man's unfortunate death, or is it to inquire into the whole scheme of exercises which might result in the loss of other lives?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

It is looking into the organisation of this particular exercise to see whether any lessons can be learned from it.

The statement is as follows: Marine Greenstreet, who had been a Cliff Leader, 3rd Class, since 1958, was undergoing a routine up-grading course to Cliff Leader, 2nd Class. He and five other students were in North Wales for two weeks' training after four weeks cliff climbing in Cornwall. The six men were accompanied by one officer and eight Instructors. On 30th November, after taking account of the weather, which was average for the time of year, the officer arranged an exercise along a well-known ridge-walking route of 12 miles. The men were divided into three pairs. After inspection at 8.30 a.m. by an instructor, to ensure that each man was carrying the correct clothing and equipment, the course set off, Corporal Collins and Marine Greenstreet, the last to leave, departing at 9.15 a.m. Each pair had to pass through a series of check points, manned by instructors. Collins and Greenstreet passed the first check point by 11.15 a.m. and were seen to be going well. The officer visited all three check points during the exercise. During the afternoon, the weather deteriorated sharply, and it began to blow very hard. By then it was impracticable to call off the exercise and the first two pairs succeeded in completing the course. At about 5.45 p.m. the officer who was at the last check point in Bethesda, was told by the police that Collins had arrived at a cottage in the area in a state of complete exhaustion. Collins said that when they were at a height of about 3,500 feet—the highest point of the route—Greenstreet had been unable to continue. After giving him his wind-proof trousers and his sweater, he left him in a rough shelter approximately 20 yards from the summit of Carnedllewelyn. The officer and five other members of the party set out as quickly as possible, followed by a stretcher party and later by a civilian mountain rescue team. By then it was dark and a full gale was blowing. It took two hours on foot to reach the summit, which was then searched until all the rescue parties were completely exhausted, several members sustaining minor injuries. The civilian mountain team, attempting to reach the summit, was forced back by the weather, the stretcher being blown away and a policeman injured. Owing to the weather and exhaustion, the rescue operation had to be abandoned at about 11 p.m The next day Greenstreet's body was recovered by a joint Royal Marine, Royal Air Force and Civilian Team, from a spot about 300 yards from the rough shelter. At the inquest, the local coroner is reported to have said that no reckless risk had been taken and that what had happened had been caused by the sudden change in the weather. A board of inquiry has been convened, and its report will be considered by the Admiralty as soon as possible. I would like to take this opportunity of expressing deep sympathy to the family of Marine Greenstreet.
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