HeadLine: 8 MILES OUT
The Mirror, 10/07/2002, p9
by SHAUN MILNE
BLUNDERING Royal Navy gunners shelled a sleepy Highland village – eight
miles off their intended target.
Live rounds were supposed to explode in a firing range at Cape Wrath in
Sutherland during a Nato exercise in the area.
But instead a stray shell landed a few hundred yards from the tiny
hamlet of Durness.
Ian Wilson, 65, the factor of Durness Estate, was so alarmed at the
sound of the incoming shell that he threw himself to the ground.
He was with his wife Maureen and crofter Martin MacKay when they began
watching the puffs of smoke from the warships firing far out at sea.
He said: “I was in the forces back in the 1960s and learned to know
what an incoming shell sounds like.
“We were watching the ships when I suddenly heard a shell approaching
and hit the deck.
“It was an instinctive reaction and I was wondering if any more would
“Everyone was wondering why I had thrown myself to the ground but when
they saw the big fountain of water going up offshore they soon
Mr Wilson added: “It was not as if the gunners got it slightly wrong
and were five degrees off target.
“They must have been nearer 90 degrees off to hit the stretch of water
“Thank God they missed the village.
“The implications of one of these things landing among the houses
doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Mr MacKay, 54, said: “It was certainly alarming.
“After one of those shells landed so far off target you began wondering
if another one was going to follow it in and hit the land.”
Mr Wilson said navy chiefs at first refused to believe the near miss
when he reported it.
However they soon launched a full inquiry and he received a telephoned
apology from Capt David Halpen, the liaison officer at the Cape Wrath
Ian added: “The shell just shouldn’t have been there.
“I want to make sure it does not happen again. Nobody was harmed but it
could have been more serious.”
Many residents in the area have been objecting to the bombing site at
Cape Wrath for a number of years.
Monica Ross, from Durness, claimed: “Someone could easily have been
“I am livid to hear a bomb landed so close to the second busiest beach
in the area.”
Neighbour Ronnie Lansley said: “It’s very concerning.
“The good thing is that nobody was hurt, but that is probably more good
luck than anything. If a local had not seen it we would never have
known about it.”
Royal Navy bosses say the rogue round was discharged from a Type 23
frigate but insisted there was no danger to the public from the shell.
A spokesman said: “We confirm that on July 3 a round from one our ships
fell into Loch Eriboll.
“The ship had what we term a hot gun, which is when it overheats and
the round has to be discharged rather than unloaded.
“A safe bearing was cleared by radar and the gun was discharged.
“Obviously, with hindsight, a better location could have been selected
and an investigation is to be carried out to find out why this bearing
“We want to reassure the public there was no danger.”
Royal Navy Commander Bertie Armstrong, who is to meet with residents
next week, said: “Although the shell landed safely we don’t want people
seeing explosions in the water.
“It doesn’t do our image any good and we have to try to get things
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