Short-sighted soldier shot dead army sergeant after he confused him from wooden target on exercise

28 August 2022, 09:56 | Updated: 28 August 2022, 12:48

Sgt Hillier was killed while working as a safety supervisor
Sgt Hillier was killed while working as a safety supervisor. Picture: Getty

By Will Taylor

A short-sighted soldier shot dead a sergeant after taking aim at what he believed was a wooden target in a night exercise.

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Father-of-two Sgt Gavin Hillier, of the Welsh Guards, died on the army weapons range in Pembrokeshire after "Guardsman 1" fired without wearing his glasses.

Sgt Hillier, 35, was the safety supervisor during the exercise in March 2021, and wore a high-visibility yellow jacket as well as body armour and a red glowstick that was strapped to his helmet.

However, Guardsman 1 - who had been in the army for 18 months - was unable to tell the veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq apart from a wooden target. The two were 143 metres from each other.

A service inquiry report said he had been refused entry to the regiment because of his vision, but managed to get in after being given corrective lenses.

The report found he would need to be three times closer to an object to see it in the same way as a person with normal sight and he would have seen him in the same way as a normally-sighted person would have at 429 metres.

Sgt Hillier was killed on an exercise
Sgt Hillier was killed on an exercise. Picture: PA

Using his right eye to aim his rifle, his perception would be more like 858 metres to a normal person.

The report by the Defence Safety Authority said: "The panel assessed it likely that Gdsm 1 mistook Sgt Hillier for the SFT (switch fire target).

"The panel concluded that not wearing their prescribed corrective lenses significantly impacted Gdsm 1's ability to identify, acquire and subsequently engage the correct target.

"The panel finds that Gdsm 1 not wearing their prescribed corrective lenses was a contributory factor."

The Ministry of Defence has not said what happened to Guardsman 1.

The report said 14 factors led to the tragedy and made 20 recommendations to stop a repeat of the incident.

Read more: British Army launch campaign telling new recruits robots will never replace soldiers

Sgt Hillier's widow Karyn has seen the report but said it was too soon to comment.

She previously said in a statement with sons Declan and Connor: "We are absolutely heartbroken and can't express how proud we are of you.

"Our boys will continue to make you proud and you will forever live on through them.

The army was exercising in Salisbury (not pictured)
The army was exercising in Salisbury (not pictured). Picture: Getty

"Daddy, we are not ready to say goodbye just yet so until we meet again, we love you always. Love, your heartbroken wife and boys."

Dyfed-Powys Police has opened an investigation but no arrests have been made. The Health and Safety Executive is also probing the incident.

The Ministry of Defence said: "Our thoughts and sympathies remain with the family and friends of Sergeant Gavin Hillier at this sad time.

"We are supporting the ongoing investigation into the incident which is being led by Dyfed-Powys Police, so it would be inappropriate to comment further."

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