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Military jury clears ex-soldier of manslaughter

SHILO, Man. — A retired Manitoba warrant officer has been found not guilty of manslaughter in a 2010 training accident in Afghanistan that killed a fellow soldier.

Paul Ravensdale has been convicted of four of the five other charges, the most serious being unlawfully causing bodily harm. The other convictions are on two counts of breach of duty and one count of negligent performance of military duty.

He was acquitted on a second charge of negligent performance of military duty.

Ravensdale was leading a test of anti-personnel mines in February 2010 when one misfired and sent hundreds of steel ball bearings in the wrong direction.

The ball bearings killed Cpl. Josh Baker and injured four others.

The prosecution had argued that Ravensdale ignored safety rules and allowed soldiers to stand too close to the mine, but the defence said Ravensdale was simply following plans approved by his superiors.

During Ravensdale’s court martial in Shilo, Man., the military panel, which is akin to a jury in a civilian trial, was presented with two very different pictures of how he acted on the weapons range near Kandahar city three years ago.

Prosecutor Maj. Tony Tamburro painted him as a weapons expert who behaved recklessly by allowing soldiers to stand too close to the C-19 anti-personnel mines without being shielded or in a dugout.

The operating manual for the mines, as well as Canadian Forces training safety rules, require people to be 100 metres behind C-19s unless they are shielded. Video played at the court martial showed some soldiers much closer than that and with nothing protecting them.

Ravensdale also flouted rules that require soldiers to first train on inert weapons before attempting a live exercise, Tamburro said.

Ravensdale’s lawyer, Maj. Philippe-Luc Boutin, said no one could have predicted the mine would act the way it did. He said the 100-metre limit is designed to protect people from minor injuries that might be caused by stones or other debris being kicked up by the blast.

Boutin also pointed to testimony from witnesses who said Ravensdale had told them to stay behind a row of light armoured vehicles.

The court martial heard some stood between vehicles or on top of them and Ravensdale gave the order to fire anyway.

Boutin laid blame on Ravensdale’s superiors who approved of his plans for the training exercise and burdened him with being both the officer in charge of the test and the safety officer on the weapons range that day. Military rules require the two tasks be assigned to separate people.

Ravensdale did not testify at his court martial and his lawyer did not call any witnesses. In an interview with a military investigator days after the accident, Ravensdale said he had no idea what went wrong and that “all hell broke loose.”

Two of Ravensdale’s superiors have already been convicted in the accident.

Maj. Christopher Lunney was demoted to captain and given a severe reprimand after pleading guilty to negligent performance of duty.

Maj. Darryl Watts is awaiting sentencing on charges of negligence and unlawfully causing bodily harm.

 
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