Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Not trained to handle mine, court told

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CALGARY -- A reservist charged in a fatal accident in Afghanistan said he had never been trained on a device that killed one soldier and wounded four others when it exploded during a training exercise.

Maj. Darryl Watts, 44, faces six charges, including manslaughter, in the death of Cpl. Josh Baker in February 2010.

Watts took the stand Monday at his court martial in Calgary as his defence began.

He was the officer in charge of the firing range that day, but he told the military court he had never been familiarized with the Claymore anti-personnel mine, also known as the C19, the soldiers were using.

He also testified he had never been qualified to run a firing range and had informed his commanding officer of that. He said it is common in the Canadian Forces to delegate tasks and Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale was the range safety officer the day of the accident.

"I said 'I'm not qualified on the C19 but Warrant Ravensdale is,' " Watts testified. "Maj. Lunney agreed Warrant Ravensdale was qualified.

"It was Warrant Ravensdale's range. I had no concerns."

Baker, 24, died when the Claymore, packed with 700 steel balls, raked the Canadian Forces platoon on a range four kilometres north of Kandahar city. Baker was struck four times and one of the steel balls penetrated his chest.

Watts is charged with manslaughter, unlawfully causing bodily harm, breach of duty and negligent performance of duty.

The prosecution alleges Watts allowed his men to practise with the C19 without any proper training and with "wanton, reckless disregard."

Watts said he didn't believe in "cutting corners" when it comes to troop safety.

"Obviously the mission came first, but there was a way to mitigate the risks," he testified. "The safety of the soldiers was paramount."

Watts testified everything seemed normal in the moments leading up to the deadly blast.

He said Ravensdale had given a detailed briefing before the first Claymore was fired without a hitch.

"I asked how it was going," said Watts of a conversation he had with Ravensdale. "Warrant Ravensdale was content. It seemed normal to me."

Watts said he had searched for more detailed information on the C19 the night before the training exercise because he was "interested in how to set up the Claymore, how to unpackage it and fire it." But he couldn't get the training manual.

"I knew it had a small prohibited zone, had a very directional focus and the lethal zone was to the front."

Watts said he was getting a briefing on the C19 when the fatal accident occurred.

"The C19s fired, there was a pause and then I heard 'medic' being called. Where I was I had not seen the detonation."

Watts was the first witness to be called by his lawyer, Balfour Der.

"By becoming a witness, an accused person exposes themselves," Der said to the five-member panel that will determine Watts's guilt or innocence.

"Maj. Watts feels there's not a thing to hide."

Der said Watts had a lack of training on the Claymore and relied upon the "experience of Warrant Officer Ravensdale" to ensure the range was safe.

"This was a terrible accident and in hindsight it probably was preventable," said Der. "But hindsight is not the lens by what we judge criminal intent."


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2012 A12

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