Fears over firing range break-ins
RECKLESS youngsters are putting their lives at risk by breaking into an Army firing range while live training manoeuvres are taking place.The situation on the Middlewick Ranges in Colchester has become so potentially dangerous that the Army is holding a special conference on Friday to ram the safety message home before someone is killed or hurt.
By Sharon Asplin
RECKLESS youngsters are putting their lives at risk by breaking into an Army firing range while live training manoeuvres are taking place.
The situation on the Middlewick Ranges in Colchester has become so potentially dangerous that the Army is holding a special conference on Friday to ram the safety message home before someone is killed or hurt.
A spokesman for Colchester Garrison and 16 Air Assault Brigade said the special day had been deemed necessary after members of the public were continuing to disregard safety signs around the ranges in Mersea Road.
He said: "The aim of the day is to get the message across about the dangers involved in trespassing on a live firing range.
"Over the past two months there have been two instances of people cutting through the boundary fence to access the range.
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"This has led to all training being cancelled until the fences have been repaired.
"In accordance with legal requirements, red flags are flown when firing is in progress and, again, some people have been disregarding these warnings."
The spokesman said the Garrison was forced to close the ranges for firing for six months between June last year and this January because of safety concerns, some of which were raised by members of the local community.
Work was carried out to strengthen fences and prune bushes to improve visibility before it reopened.
The spokesman added: "Obviously this is a dangerous place if the red flags are flying or the red lights are on at night and we want to make the public know that if they continue to disregard these warnings they could be charged with trespass.
"There have been no injuries to the public at all on the ranges and our safety record is second to none and we want to keep it that way."
Terry Sutton, Colchester borough councillor for the Berechurch ward, said he was aware of concerns in the community about safety at the ranges.
The Liberal Democrat councillor, himself a former soldier, said: "There are a number of dog walkers who use the site and for the most part they are responsible but it is mainly the youngsters who ignore the flags and just go over there when they are shooting and they are putting their lives at risk.
"Youngsters have always been curious about and attracted to the soldiers firing guns on the site but unfortunately today's youth seems to have little fear of authority and that lack of respect is going to end up with someone getting maimed."
The British Army prides itself on its professionalism which, it says, is attained by constant, thorough and tough training in realistic conditions.
The Army Training Estate provides the principal facilities for training and Colchester is the headquarters of the East Anglia training area.
It comprises about 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) for dry training, plus ranges at Middlewick, which includes a sniper training facility, and Fingringhoe, which permits grenade, anti-tank and machine-gun practice.
At Middlewick, which is used by all Colchester-based units, live firing exercises are carried out with small arms, such as pistols and rifles, with a range of between 100 and 400 metres.