Connor Clark: Royal Marine trainee found dead on Devon railway line believed he was 'the worst recruit'

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
An 18-year-old Royal Marine trainee, Connor Clark, believed he was the “worst recruit” before he was found dead on a railway line just weeks into his training, an inquest has heard. Clark had scaled a razor wire fence using a duvet at the commando training centre (CTC) in Lympstone, Devon, before being struck by a train on June 12, 2021.

Prior to his death, Clark reportedly mentioned that his superiors had implicitly and explicitly suggested he was a “failure” and the “worst recruit.” The officer overseeing the new recruits denied calling Clark the worst recruit but admitted informing him that he was failing the course.

Philip Spinney, the senior coroner for Devon, Plymouth & Torbay, said the inquest would include testimonies about a “hostile atmosphere” during the recruit orientation phase (ROP) course, where instructors were allegedly aggressive and used profanity towards recruits. Major Mark Thrift, who was in charge of the ROP course at the time, acknowledged that recruits often became irritable due to fatigue but insisted that the course was designed to be supportive rather than harsh.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Asked specifically about Mr Clark’s course, the officer replied: “No I wasn’t aware of that, which is a shame because during the diversity and inclusion lecture which happens on the Wednesday of week one, (it says) that they were part of a family and they needed to look after each other.

“There was to be no bullying, there was to be nothing like that, and if anyone was to experience any sort of behaviour like that, they were to bring it to my attention. Young lads get very tired, they get a little bit testy with each other, which I think is probably understandable, but it should not go any further than that and they should not be hostile.

“The training has not changed even in the 40 years I have been in the service and people still get very tired when they are sleep deprived.”

An 18-year-old Royal Marine trainee, Connor Clark was found dead on a railway line outside the commando training centre (CTC) in Lympstone, Devon just weeks into his training.An 18-year-old Royal Marine trainee, Connor Clark was found dead on a railway line outside the commando training centre (CTC) in Lympstone, Devon just weeks into his training.
An 18-year-old Royal Marine trainee, Connor Clark was found dead on a railway line outside the commando training centre (CTC) in Lympstone, Devon just weeks into his training. | Google Maps

Mr Spinney said he also expected to hear evidence that recruits were sworn at by aggressive instructors, who told them they were “useless and shouldn’t be there”. “I expect to hear evidence that this happened to Connor,” the coroner said. “Is that your experience of this course that Connor was on? Is that accepted practice?”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Major Thrift replied: “No it’s not because that is not what the course is about. The course is a coaching and mentoring course and easing people into training. That is why the ROP was designed, so that it wasn’t a short, sharp, shock treatment of a national service. We’ve moved on from that and the Royal Marines has recognised that. That’s not acceptable.”

Spinney highlighted that evidence would likely show recruits being berated by instructors, to which Thrift responded that while negative comments did occur, they were typically from inexperienced instructors who went too far. Thrift maintained that the course aimed to ease recruits into training with a coaching and mentoring approach.

The inquest also heard that Clark, from Norfolk, died from multiple severe injuries on the railway line adjacent to the camp. He had recently completed the third week of his course and passed an inspection just days before his death. His roommates discovered him missing at 5am and alerted Corporal Clinton William, who initiated a search within the camp but not beyond the fence.

Major Thrift said: “When the recruits woke Cpl Williams, they woke him at 5am. The last time they saw Connor was approximately midnight. The first train didn’t come along the train track until 7am, so in my statement I put I didn’t understand how he could have been outside the wire for two hours on a nice, sunny Saturday morning, perhaps sitting considering what he was about to do… he didn’t reflect on that.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“If things were really bad at the CTC why didn’t he just go home? He was already outside the wire. I still don’t understand why he just didn’t go home. From the camp’s response, I don’t know why we didn’t search. We are part of a family, and a member of our family was missing and had been outside the wire from maybe just after midnight.

“I would have thought we would have searched in the immediate area at least because there was a duvet over the wire and a water bottle in the no man’s land between the two fences with ‘Recruit Clark’ written on it. It was likely he had gone outside the wire.”

Major Thrift added: “That troop was my 15th ROP. There were no concerns prior or after for the two years I was there of somebody self-harming or the risk of suicide.”

The inquest is ongoing.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.