Judge Cormac Quinn heard in the Circuit Civil Court today that Private Aoife Burke had fallen on her face against her rifle, injuring her left eye and nose.
Burke of Kilskyre Road, Clonmellon, Westmeath, told the court she had been taking part in a training exercise in January of 2017 when she had tripped over a loose bungee cord, landing on her own rifle.
Barrister John Nolan told the court Private Burke now aged 24, had fallen when a loose bungee cord had become tangled in her boot after exiting a “bivvy” during a simulation which had required her platoon to evacuate in the early hours of the morning.
Private Burke claimed she had not received adequate warning of the simulation taking place and had not been able to see where she was going as the use of torches had been prohibited during the drill.
She had sustained injuries to her nose and left eyelid and had been taken to The Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore, before being transferred to St James’ Hospital to have her wounds cleaned and sutured.
Mr Nolan, who appeared with Ruth Foy of Traceys Solicitors, said she had been left with a number of facial scars which were “noticeable at conversation distance” and were sensitive to temperature changes, stinging in hot or cold weather.
Captain Edward Maguire,who had planned the exercise, said Recruit Burke had been given warning of the simulation prior to it taking place.
The entire exercise had been rehearsed during daylight hours and the recruits had been informed that there would be a simulation of the so called ‘bug-out’ at some point during the night.
The court also heard all recruits had been given instructions to use a small red light on their helmets during the simulation as it had been their first time running through it in the dark.
It was also stated that in active service, there would be no warning before an incident and there would have to be some risk when training in order to prepare recruits.
Dr Tom Clonan, an expert witness for Private Burke, said the exercise had clearly been intended as a learning experience for recruits rather than to test them.
The retired army officer told the court there had been no mention of a pressurised ‘bug-out’ in the written exercise report and this would have put the recruits under “undue physical and mental pressure” which they would not have had adequate training to deal with.
He said that whilst risk could not have been eliminated in its entirety from the exercise, the personnel controlling the training activity should have proactively mitigated risk by ensuring an exit path had been clear at the time and that proper safety equipment had been used throughout.
Dr Clonan said the idea of Burke tripping over a foreign object on the path was unacceptable.
“If it had been a tree root this would not have been preventable but to trip over a foreign object is something that could have been prevented if the four pillars of the Safe Operations and Training System had been applied to this exercise” he said.
Corporal Steven Doherty, one of the instructors on the training exercise, said the pathway had been patrolled and inspected at regular intervals.
He claimed Private Burke had received adequate instruction and supervision throughout the exercise and had been advised to watch her step as there could potentially be hazards.
Captain Maguire said special emphasis had been placed on safety precautions at all times during the exercise.
Mr Nolan told the court that Private Burke was a professional soldier and had signed on with the Defence Forces for another five years.
Eamon Beausang consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon in a report said Private Burke would be left with permanent facial scars but they would not require any revisional procedures in the future.
Judge Quinn has reserved judgement.