Death of Royal Marine Benjamin McQueen

Benjamin McQueen - Royal Marine Commando

By Pat Carty.

The Royal Marine Commando Training Centre, also known as CTCRM, is the principal training centre for the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines. Based at Lympstone in Devon, the CTCRM selects and trains all Royal Marines Officers, recruits and reserves. CTCRM is also unique in that it also provides all Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) command training as well as training 70% of all Royal Marines specialists.

On average, 1,300 recruits, 2,000 potential recruits and 400 potential officers attend courses at CTCRM every year. In addition, the Training Wings run upwards of 320 courses a year for a further 2,000 students.

Benjamin (Ben) McQueen enlisted for training at the CTCRM on 7 December 2009. As part of 103 Troop, and following an intense 32-week training course, Ben passed out as a Royal Marine Commando on 10 September 2010. However, at an inquest on 28th July 2023, Coroner Judge Sir Ernest Ryder concluded that 26-year-old Ben had drowned some eight years later, on 14 November 2018.

Ben, who the coroner said had already passed UK Special Forces selection and was just days from completing specialist training to join “an elite unit”, was taking part in an SF amphibious assault. This involved a lengthy underwater approach to a target, located at Portland Harbour – home of the UK’s Special Boat Service. But went missing.

Tracking devices, which could have located Ben were not used, because the exercise was supposed to be as realistic as possible. However, this resulted in standby divers taking 40 minutes to locate Ben on the seabed and bring him to the surface.

Due to concerns about national security surrounding the circumstances of Ben’s death, the majority of the evidence was presented behind closed doors, with only Ben’s family and security-cleared legal representatives able to attend. However, in open court, Sir Ernest Ryder raised significant concerns about the planning and supervision of the training provided by the MoD, which led to Ben’s death. These included;

  • Not topping up breathable gas levels between the two dives.
  • The lack of a training requirement for all signals to be acknowledged.
  • Inadequate risk assessment for the combined use of the equipment used in training.
  • Failing to identify mitigating measures for the risks arising.
  • A marked and inappropriate increase in the rate of training progression.
  • Insufficiently firm instruction on when student drivers should surface.
  • Limitations in training in the Emergency Ascent Drill.
  • Not specifically training dive students to check their cylinder pressure after drills;
  • Inadequate consideration of the risk of a loss diver in selecting the most appropriate air cylinder for the stand-by diver;
  • Failure to ensure a full and rapid debrief of the student divers who surfaced in choosing where to deploy the standby diver;
  • The lack of formal authorisation from Headquarters for some of the equipment being used.
  • A lack of proactive engagement in the chain of command.

It was said during the inquest that Ben was extremely well-liked by his fellow troops and commanders and was also said to have been a considerate and human being as well as a competent and natural soldier. He had also stood out in his career reports for the excellence he brought to his role, and had achieved his life ambition of serving his country by joining the Corps and being selected for such an elite unit.

The Government’s Health and Safety Executive had previously served the MoD with two improvement notices, and following their earlier investigation, the MoD had also accepted two Crown Censures. These illustrated a level of overconfidence within the MoD when it came to providing safe systems of training to its soldiers.

The Coroner Judge, having heard evidence as to what improvements had been implemented by the MoD since Ben’s death, also made four recommendations to the MoD via a Prevention of Future Death Report, to ensure that lessons arising out of Ben’s death were learned.

Sebastian Del Monte, acting on behalf of Ben’s family said:

“It is clear from the coroner’s conclusions that Ben’s death was preventable and is symptomatic of the Ministry of Defence’s opaqueness, which led to overconfidence surrounding safety and training processes. It is the family’s view that this complacency and lack of oversight caused the tragic death of a young man serving his country.

“Due to the lack of transparency and the need for a secure inquest, the family has waited nearly five years to uncover what happened to their son. Inquests are difficult processes for any family but especially so in these circumstances. Ben’s family fought tirelessly and with dignity to learn the truth surrounding Ben’s tragic death. They did so to ensure that other families do not have to go through the same torturous process.”

Ben’s mother, Kathy McQueen, and Ben’s father, Colin McQueen added:

“Ben was a precious beloved son, brother, soldier, and friend and is sorely missed. He lived life to the full, a natural soldier with a humble heart. He had a fierce focus and determination to reach his best. His life was cut short because he was failed by the very organisation in which he put his trust. We do not know exactly what happened in Ben’s final moments, but we do believe Ben’s death was preventable. His legacy will be significant changes in dive training and ethos across the forces and an inspiration for others to face their fears as he so courageously did. We do not grieve as those who have no hope because we will see Ben again and his live and death have not been wasted.”


Author: Pat Carty is a NATO accredited journalist who covers military news, events, operations, and exercises; including special operations forces. He is a contributor to SOF News as well as several other military defense publications.