A soldier fatally injured during a training exercise in Wales is likely to have been mistaken for a firing target by a short-sighted colleague who was not wearing lenses at the time, a report has concluded.
Sergeant Gavin Hillier, 35, of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, died at the Castlemartin range in Pembrokeshire on March 4 2021.
His wife Karyn and sons Declan and Connor described themselves as “heartbroken” following his death.
The shooter, referred to in an official and partly redacted report as Guardsman 1, had been prescribed corrective lenses but was not wearing them at the time.
The service inquiry 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 report said the shooter, who had been in the Army for 18 months at the time of the incident, had previously tried to join the military but was told they were ineligible due to a “visual acuity” (VA).
The guardsman only met the minimum entry standards for the military when wearing corrective lenses, the report said.
It added that, without lenses, “to see the same level of detail as a normally sighted person, they would need to be three times closer if using both eyes (binocular vision), or six times closer using just their right eye”.
The report concluded that on the night of the incident, the shooter “was approximately 290 metres from the SFT where they should have been aiming their rifle”.
It added: “Given their uncorrected VA they would have seen this target in the same detail as someone with normal vision would have seen it at 1,740 metres.”
The report makes a series of recommendations including ensuring soldiers requiring corrective lenses know of their responsibility to wear them “for all safety-critical duties” and for an “assurance mechanism” to ensure they are wearing them “prior to live firing”.
A spokeswoman for the Army 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.”
Sgt Hillier had a “distinguished career”, the Ministry of Defence previously said, deploying on operations in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
His wife and sons said: “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.”
An inquest into Sgt Hillier’s death was opened at Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire Coroner’s Court last year.