The widow of a British Army Commonwealth recruit who collapsed and died during an aptitude test is suing the Ministry of Defense and its civilian recruiting company for compensation of more than £200,000.
Youngson Nkhoma, 30, from Malawi, was taking part in a 2km timed run at a testing center in Lichfield, Staffordshire on 27 November 2019 when he collapsed 200m from the finish line.
The father-of-one died in hospital later that night from catastrophic organ failure, just ten days after another Commonwealth recruit, 25-year-old Kamil Iddrisu, died in almost identical fashion during a similar test at Lichfield.
Now his widow, Latia Nkhoma, is suing the Defense Ministry and its recruiting business partners Capita Business Services Ltd, demanding a payment of more than £200,000 to compensate her and her baby for the death of her husband.
Nkhoma had applied to join the British Army as part of a recruitment drive that began in November 2019, during which rules requiring Commonwealth citizens to have lived in the UK for five years before applying for duty were temporarily relaxed. the strengths.
Youngson Nkhoma, from Malawi, died in hospital of catastrophic organ failure after collapsing during a 2km timed run at an assessment center in Lichfield.
Both recruits were training at Whittington Barracks in Staffordshire and suffered from undiagnosed sickle cell disease, a blood condition that can be fatal during extreme exercise and more commonly affects people of African descent.
A coroner’s investigation after the deaths of the recruits revealed that Mr. Nkhoma and the other man who died had sickle cell trait, an inherited condition more common in people with certain genetic backgrounds, including those of African descent.
What is sickle cell disease
Sickle cell disease is the generic term for a group of inherited conditions that severely affect the red blood cells.
Around 15,000 people in the UK have it and it is particularly common in people of African or Caribbean descent.
Healthy red blood cells, produced by stem cells within the bone marrow, are biconcave discs that can easily bend and flex.
However, in those with sickle cell disease, the defective stem cells produce red blood cells that are shaped like a crescent moon.
They are rigid, unable to pass through smaller blood vessels, and prone to causing blockages that starve parts of the body of oxygen.
Patients are not expected to live beyond 60 years and treatment focuses mainly on relieving symptoms, such as pain and infections, through blood transfusions and pain relievers.
The condition can cause the body to break down fatally when triggered by overexertion or strenuous exercise, especially in extreme temperatures.
Muscles begin to break down, releasing fibers into the bloodstream, which clog vital organs in a deadly process known as rhabdomyolysis.
In 2021, the Defense Security Authority carried out an investigation into the deaths and collapse of several other surviving Commonwealth Army applicants and found that there had been failures in the selection process and in the supply of equipment. of health and safety on the days of the tests.
As a result of the coroner’s findings, the Ministry of Defense now routinely tests recruits for sickle cell trait with blood tests.
The Defense Ministry is now being sued along with Capita, a business services company that has had a contract to handle military recruitment since 2012.
In documents filed with the High Court, Irwin Mitchell, lawyers for the widow Latia Nkhoma, say: “The lawsuit arises out of an accident that took place on November 27, 2019 at the Army Assessment Center in Lichfield.
The deceased, a Malawi national who had applied to the British Army through the Commonwealth Recruitment Initiative, was undergoing the physical assessment stage of the recruitment process, which consisted of a 2km run.
As the deceased neared the finish line, he collapsed and was hospitalized, but passed away that night.
‘The cause of death was later determined to be multiple organ failure, exertional rhabdomyolysis, sickle cell trait, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
‘Plaintiff alleges that the first and second defendants were negligent or breached their duty of care due to the acts or omissions of their employees, servants or agents and is therefore obligated to indemnify the plaintiff for injuries and losses suffered .’
The High Court order puts the value of the widow’s claim at over £200,000.
A spokesman for Youngson’s family said after the inquest: “Youngson had been talking about the military for a long time and was excited to be invited into the selection process.”
“When he collapsed just before the finish line, it was quite a shock, but we never for a minute expected to be told that he had passed away. In that moment, our entire world changed and the pain has been overwhelming.
“Losing Youngson at such a young age was nothing short of traumatic and something we will never get over, but we are grateful that the investigation has at least provided us with some answers.
‘We just hope that no one else has to go through what we have; we would not wish this pain on anyone.
The court has not yet made available to the public the defenses to the action of the Ministry of Defense and Capita.