A Lympstone Royal Marine trainee who was found dead on a railway line just weeks into his initial training believed he was the “worst recruit”, an inquest has heard, writes Rod Minchin from PA.

Connor Clark, 18, left the Commando Training Centre (CTC) before being struck by a train on the morning of June 12 2021.

The teenager had made comments prior to his death about “the corporal and captain expressing implicitly and explicitly” that he was a “failure” and being the “worst recruit”.

The officer in charge of the new recruits denied he had called Mr Clark that, but accepted he told him he was failing the course.

Philip Spinney, senior coroner for Devon, Plymouth & Torbay, said the inquest would hear evidence from former recruits about a “hostile atmosphere” and that instructors were aggressive and would swear at recruits on the four-week recruit orientation phase (ROP) course.

The coroner questioned Major Mark Thrift, who at the time of Mr Clark’s death was a captain in charge of the ROP course, about the evidence likely to be heard.

Mr Spinney said he was expecting to hear about recruits “lashing out at each other during various points of training. These confrontations were commonplace”.

Asked to comment on that, Major Thrift said: “As a recruit? Yes, I think it probably was because now looking back on it and having time to reflect… I am reflecting on my own experience…”

Asked specifically about Mr Clark’s course, the officer replied: “No I wasn’t aware of that, which is a shame because during the diversity and inclusion lecture which happens on the Wednesday of week one, (it says) that they were part of a family and they needed to look after each other.

“There was to be no bullying, there was to be nothing like that, and if anyone was to experience any sort of behaviour like that, they were to bring it to my attention.

“Young lads get very tired, they get a little bit testy with each other, which I think is probably understandable, but it should not go any further than that and they should not be hostile.

“The training has not changed even in the 40 years I have been in the service and people still get very tired when they are sleep deprived.”

Mr Spinney said he also expected to hear evidence that recruits were sworn at by aggressive instructors, who told them they were “useless and shouldn’t be there”.

“I expect to hear evidence that this happened to Connor,” the coroner said.

“Is that your experience of this course that Connor was on? Is that accepted practice?”

Major Thrift replied: “No it’s not because that is not what the course is about. The course is a coaching and mentoring course and easing people into training.

“That is why the ROP was designed, so that it wasn’t a short, sharp, shock treatment of a national service. We’ve moved on from that and the Royal Marines has recognised that.

“That’s not acceptable.”

The coroner said he expected to hear evidence that “negative comments” were made towards recruits.

Major Thrift replied: “It is something I am aware of, and it does happen, from what I would describe as inexperienced but passionate instructors and they take it too far.”

The inquest heard that the teenager had made comments prior to his death about “the corporal and captain expressing implicitly and explicitly” that he was a “failure” and being the “worst recruit”.

Mr Spinney asked Major Thrift: “Did you ever tell him he was the worst recruit?”

The officer replied: “No. I did tell him he was failing.”

Another witness, Sergeant Clinton Williams, denied he had made those comments to Mr Clark.

“I wouldn’t know, but I would assume not, purely because I wouldn’t have had any one-to-one interaction,” the instructor, who was a corporal at the time, said.

Asked about swearing and being aggressive towards recruits, including calling them “useless”, Sgt Williams replied: “I couldn’t sit here and say those wordings… I wouldn’t use.

“I couldn’t sit here and say I haven’t told people that maybe Royal Marines training wasn’t for them. I have definitely said that to recruits.

“Especially in the early stages of training because, as Major Thrift did say, a lot of the attrition rate is because Royal Marines training isn’t what people expect and very quickly they realise that.

“It can be a harsh, aggressive environment. But in my opinion, proportional.”

The inquest heard the teenager, who was from Norfolk, died from multiple severe injuries on the railway line, which ran adjacent to the camp.

Mr Clark had just completed the third week of the course that all Royal Marine recruits undertake before they begin their initial training.

He had passed an inspection just three days before he died, which he had been recognised for.

Roommates realised the teenager was missing at 5am and alerted Cpl Williams, who launched a search of the camp – but not beyond the fence.

“When the recruits woke Cpl Williams, they woke him at 5am. The last time they saw Connor was approximately midnight,” Major Thrift said.

He added: “If things were really bad at the CTC why didn’t he just go home? He was already outside the wire. I still don’t understand why he just didn’t go home.

“From the camp’s response, I don’t know why we didn’t search. We are part of a family, and a member of our family was missing and had been outside the wire from maybe just after midnight.

“I would have thought we would have searched in the immediate area at least (...). It was likely he had gone outside the wire.”

Major Thrift added: “That troop was my 15th ROP. There were no concerns prior or after for the two years I was there of somebody self-harming or the risk of suicide.”

The hearing continues.

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