A British squaddie who got drunk before falling off a Polish hotel balcony may have died because alcohol restrictions at military bases are too strict, an investigation heard.
Sergeant Ryan Lovatt (25) died of his injuries in August 2019 during a break from military service in Warsaw.
He served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and had been assigned to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards for diplomatic services.
He had been sent to Eastern Europe as part of Operation Cabrit, an alias for Britain’s contribution to NATO’s increased forward presence.
Cpl Lovatt was one of around 150 British soldiers sent to Poland, where they are part of the US-led combat group to demonstrate “transatlantic strength” against Russia.
During a break, the investigation learned that Cpl Lovatt was drinking heavily on the evening of July 31, 2019 and in the early hours of August 1, and was sprayed with pepper spray by a bouncer when leaving a club.
Senior Coroner David Salter said, “There have been two incidents outside of clubs where some members of the group have been sprayed with pepper spray by door staff, but from the evidence I’ve heard it seems unprovoked and clumsy.
“Cpl Lovatt was sprayed with pepper spray in the second incident and returned to the hotel with a colleague in a taxi who took him to his room.”
He was put to bed by a comrade in his room in the City Comfort Hotel in Warsaw, but later accidentally fell to his death from the balcony of his room without witnesses.
There was no evidence to suggest that the circumstances were intentional or suspicious.
The investigations heard that there was a “two can rule” about alcohol during the operation, which was described as “quite restrictive”.
The camp’s facilities “left a lot to be desired and morale was not high,” the coroner Oxford was told.
The coroner issued a report to the Department of Defense to prevent future deaths suggesting that military policies were too strict on alcohol, resulting in binge drinking when soldiers were off duty.
Mr. Salter said: “The deployment seems to be somewhere between a business tour and normalization. The result appears to be a systemic problem in terms of understanding the policy and adhering to it.
“It is possible that restrictive alcohol policies and poor grassroots conditions could lead to excessive alcohol consumption on a trip like this.
“Rather than tightening the policy, it is possible that less restrictive grassroots conditions are part of the answer.
“However you look at the above, whether it is a two-can rule, a four-can rule or more, an important protection is the requirement that a soldier, usually a sergeant, be a shark guard is appointed and remains sober and vigilant.
“It’s a well-known and sensible concept. It is not clear to me whether there is a formalized directive. I assume that the system can work differently depending on the staff and location.
“In this case, the system did not work effectively because the person nominated as the shark observer did not appear to know that they were being nominated.
“Others who have made statements were unclear about the existence or requirements of such a system. In short, my concern is that there is no realistic, workable, or broadly understood policy that can be enforced in relation to alcohol in Operation Cabrit, and that, moreover, the role of shark watching is not given greater importance. “
A Defense Department spokesman said, “The health and well-being of our personnel are of the utmost importance, which is why commanders provide comprehensive guidance to help personnel make informed decisions.
“In addition to treating people with severe alcohol abuse, all three services are developing holistic programs as part of an overarching strategy for a healthy lifestyle.”
Following the death of Cpl Lovatt, his family said in a statement: “We are devastated by the loss of our son Ryan. We never expected him to be injured on an operation like this.