A Royal Marine recruit who was found dead on a railway line may have been worried about losing his upcoming leave after misplacing a piece of kit, an inquest heard, writes Rod Michin.

Connor Clark, 18, had been going to spend the weekend in Exeter when his body was discovered on the tracks adjacent to the commando training centre (CTC) in Lympstone, Devon, on the morning of June 12, 2021.

The teenager, from Norfolk, was three weeks into a four-week recruit orientation phase (ROP) course that all Marines undertake before they begin their initial training.

The inquest in Exeter has heard Mr Clark had made comments about being told by the staff he was a “failure” and was the “worst recruit” and he had also misplaced a blank firing adapter for his rifle.

Officers have told the inquest there would not have been any consequences for Mr Clark for losing the £40 device.

Giving evidence, Able Seaman Chris Lee, who had become friends with Mr Clark during the course, rejected claims the teenager had been a target of bullying by instructors.

“I wouldn’t say he was singled out or targeted any more than the rest of the troop was,” AB Lee said.

“I wouldn’t say it was fair to say he was unfairly targeted if I am being completely honest.”

AB Lee said he was taken “completely by surprise” by his friend’s death.

“We didn’t have any kind of foresight or any thought that could happen. It didn’t really come across our minds,” he said.

“I think even after looking back there were any warning signs that I missed other than potentially the fact that, now that I think about it with the questions asked today, perhaps he got a little more stressed and worried with the fact that we might lose the shore leave because he lost a piece of kit.

“Maybe that played on his mind quite a bit, I am not sure. Thinking about it today with the questions asked, I think that might have been a driving factor.

“Looking back now I don’t think there was anything I could have seen or noticed to prevent what actually happened.”

The inquest heard Mr Clark “struggled” with organising his personal kit and had failed inspections as a result.

“He did seem to be quite worried about it all the time. I would also say it wasn’t to a point where I thought he might really need some help here,” AB Lee said.

“There was always encouragement and people were around to help him, but he did seem to stress out quite a bit about his kit, but it wasn’t anything alarming or to the point where I thought this might be an issue.”

The witness told the court there were tensions between recruits, with two or three being aggressive towards each other.

“Amongst the recruits I would say a large number of the troop got along quite well with each other but there were a few people who had started quite a lot of arguments, which at times almost did get physical,” he said.

“I think a few of the individuals, maybe two or three of them, would make situations a bit worse than they needed to be.

“There were two or three recruits who would make the environment a bit toxic.”

AB Lee said he never saw Mr Clark being singled out by other recruits and said the instructors would shout and swear at times but were doing their job.

“I would say occasionally from time to time they might swear at the recruits or shout something, but I didn’t really see it as anything more than them doing their jobs in training recruits,” he said.

“I never really saw them being unfair with anybody either. In terms of exactly what they might have said I don’t recall them using the word ‘useless’ too often.

“I wouldn’t say it was any more different or strange than what would be expected of an instructor.

“From my personal standpoint I saw them as doing their jobs. The comments or statements they were making never really got too personal, so I never really took it that way either.”

AB Lee told the court he had personally suffered around 20 “thrashings” – meaning punishments of physical exercise such as press-ups or running – during his time at the ROP.

The inquest heard that AB Lee had switched to another career within the Royal Navy after Mr Clark’s death.

Asked why, he said: “I would say it was more than that, but it did play into my decision. After that happened, I don’t think my mind was really in the right place to be there any more.

“I think I got disheartened after what happened and looking back, I wouldn’t be exactly able to say why but I think in the moment my mood went down quite a bit and then I started losing the motivation after what happened to Connor.”

The inquest also heard that two days before Mr Clark died, he had gone to the sick bay seeking treatment for a wound to his elbow.

He told medical staff he had initially cut his elbow falling against a radiator but then had used a knife to re-open the wound to avoid duties.

In a written statement Surgeon Commander Jon Bedford said: “The patient explained that he had been under considerable pressure to complete all his administrative tasks in recruit orientation programme and was missing out on sleep and had no downtime.

“While Recruit Clark appreciated that the training team needed to put recruits under pressure, he felt that he was always at the back of the class, had been derided as the worst recruit.

“He further explained that he did not wish to commit any self-harm currently, nor have any thoughts of suicide.”

He said he did not discuss with Mr Clark’s training team or chain of command the conversation.

“It would not be my usual practice to share any medical information with a training team unless the patient has specifically consented to this,” he said.

“The impression was that Recruit Clark did not wish for any information to be shared with the ROP training team.

“It is clear that I did not adhere to the guidance and thus made a poor and a wrong decision in not seeking a case conference that day or the very least having a face-to-face review with Recruit Clark later that same day after discussion with colleague medical officers.

“It would have then allowed for wider assessment and management of his stressed state and equally the chance to put him in a safer environment.

“I considered many times while I diverged from the guidance on self-harm. I felt Recruit Clark’s self-harm was done to increase the gravity of the injury to his arm, so that he had sufficient reason to visit the medical centre and download about the stress he was under.”

The inquest continues.