Calls For Better Gun Security On Warships

A coroner has called on the Royal Navy to increase security of its weapons on board warships after a sailor gained access to a rifle and shot himself.

Engineering Technician (ET) Samuel ''Ricky'' Hatton killed himself using an SA80 service rifle on board the minehunter HMS Cattistock berthed at Portsmouth Naval Base on September 12th 2010.

The inquest at Portsmouth heard that the 20-year-old had been hit hard by the death of Matthew ''Spider'' Webster, who had shot himself on board another minehunter, HMS Hurworth, in Faslane, Scotland, in February that year.

ET Hatton had permission to access the gun store but did not have the right to handle a weapon.

A safety rack holding the rifles had been broken for at least six months and had not been repaired, enabling ET Hatton to easily remove the weapon and use it to shoot himself.

Only two days earlier he had been allowed to enter the ammunition store unaccompanied to carry out a temperature check.

Portsmouth Coroner David Horsley said that he would write to the Navy asking it to design and fit a more secure storage system to all of its warships.

He said: ''I am worried about a similar situation arising in the future.''

Mr Horsley also called on the Navy to change its Joint Personnel Administration (JPA) system to enable warship captains to have access to the complete files of prospective crew members to ensure that they are suitable for the posting.

Describing ET Hatton as ''vulnerable'', Mr Horsley questioned whether a small ship such as Cattistock, which has a crew of only 45 people, was suitable for someone with a troubled past such as his.

The inquest heard that ET Hatton suffered from depression and had a difficult childhood.

His mother was a drug addict and he was born addicted to heroin while his father was an alcoholic.

ET Hatton spent much of his childhood in care before he joined the Navy.

The hearing was told that ET Hatton, who lived in Southampton, had received ''bullying'' comments from senior colleagues who asked: ''Not shot yourself yet?''

He was also taunted over his ginger hair by fellow crew members, the inquest heard.

Mr Horsley said: ''Samuel Hatton was a vulnerable young man who had a traumatic and unhappy childhood.

''The Navy had given him the first true home and stability in his life, the Navy was a family for him.''

But he added that because of his vulnerability, ET Hatton did not have the emotional mechanisms to handle the banter and remarks made by his colleagues.

Mr Horsley said: ''Anyone would be deeply distressed by the loss of a close friend but Sam took the death of Matthew Webster especially hard.

''I feel the Navy did not fully appreciate the depth of Sam's feelings following the death of his friend.

''I do not think this was the Navy's fault and I do not blame Sam for not expressing his feelings.''

Mr Horsley, who recorded a narrative verdict, concluded the inquest with a moment's silence to remember ET Hatton, which was observed by the public gallery which included his estranged father Stephen Hatton, half-sister Zoe Andrew and former girlfriend Sophie Asher who is the mother of his son, Archie.

A Royal Navy spokesman said that, following ET Hatton's death, all of its warship and submarine crews had been briefed about on-board weapon security.

He said: ''Our thoughts remain with the family of ET (WE) Hatton at this difficult time.

''An immediate ship's investigation was conducted after his death and the defective rifle rack on board HMS Cattistock has been repaired.

''We also took swift action to re-brief all surface ships and submarines on the importance of correctly controlling access to small arms and ammunition.

''The guidance used to identify those who are unsuitable to serve on board small ships has also been reviewed and enhanced.

''We note the coroner's helpful comments and will respond in full once we have received his letter and consider what further action might need to be taken.''