Army officer in trouble over use of live bullets

By Andrew Koubaridis

Colonel was not qualified to sign off permission and may face discipline.

Lieutenant Colonel Julian Sewell is likely to be subject to disciplinary action. Photo / APN
Lieutenant Colonel Julian Sewell is likely to be subject to disciplinary action. Photo / APN

A senior Army officer is expected to face disciplinary action after he wrongly signed off approval for soldiers to fire live bullets in training exercises.

Unit Commander Lieutenant Colonel Julian Sewell was not properly qualified to complete the approvals process that covered the live firing part of the training. Even though he did not play any role in physically conducting the live firing, an investigation by the army has found "high standards" weren't met - despite what they say is a "rigorous" checking system.

A source said it was likely only about one in 10 qualifications were checked during occasional audits "and no one would pick it up and you would get away with it".

The source said if protocols had been followed Colonel Sewell would not have taken that part of the training, and was concerned about the cavalier attitude from some within the army.

"They go on and on about being safe ... If you look at Michael Ross who drowned in Lake Moawhango - there were unqualified people trying to do a job there and it resulted in his death. Now if that hasn't woken them up to the need for having properly qualified people then I don't know what will."

Army bosses insist the public should have confidence protocols were being followed but in a statement to the Herald said it would now "remind its staff of their roles and responsibilities".

A health and safety review to address any safety deficiencies was launched by the defence force after the death of 29-year-old soldier Private Ross who drowned in September 2012 during a training exercise in Lake Moawhango.

Colonel Evan Williams, commander training and doctrine command, said the army's high standards for sign off and approval of training activities were not met.

"Unit commanders are responsible for the overall health and safety of all personnel in their unit. They are expected to authorise any unit training, not just training involving live firing. But in this case the officer was not qualified to sign part of the approvals process. If a unit commander is not qualified in a certain area they are expected to gain a sign-off from an officer who holds the appropriate qualification."

Colonel Williams reviewed the safety plan - and what occurred at the training - and was satisfied the activity was safe and no one was put at risk. "Approval to conduct any form of training, particularly live firing, is a rigorous multi-stage process focused on ensuring training is well designed and, above all, safe. The personnel who developed the activity and those that provided the safety supervision of the training were all qualified and highly trained in accordance with our procedures. At no time was the officer concerned involved in the direct supervision of safety during the event."

Colonel Sewell had been counselled and was likely to be "subject to disciplinary action", Colonel Williams said.

In the firing line

*Lieutenant Colonel Julian Sewell (pictured) may face disciplinary action after signing off a training exercise he was not qualified for.
*There were no accidents during the exercise but the army says high standards were not followed.
*The army will be speaking to all its staff to remind them of their responsibilities.
*A "rigorous" quality assurance programme reviews all training activities but did not pick up the fact Colonel Sewell was not qualified to complete the approval process in relation to live firing.

- NZ Herald

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