Shooter went on drinking binge

Able Seaman Ryan Samuel Donovan
Able Seaman Ryan Samuel Donovan

POLICE investigating the murder of naval officer Ian Molyneux discovered his killer had gone on a drinking binge in the 48 hours before shooting the Wigan submariner.

Officers were so alarmed by the crew’s boozing that the chief constable was told and he contacted military authorities.

Detective Superintendent Tony Harris interviewed the crew aboard HMS Astute following the shooting of Lieutenant Commander Ian Molyneux by Able Seaman Ryan Donovan, who was 76 per cent above the drink-drive limit.

The hearing in Southampton was told the officer was “highly alarmed” by the crew’s alcohol consumption and he wrote to Hampshire chief constable Alex Marshall with his concerns.

His boss then contacted Brigadier Neil Baverstock. After talking to the crew, detectives concluded that Donovan’s drink intake was not out of the ordinary.

The hearing heard he had drunk 20 pints of cider and lager, cocktails and double vodkas in the 48 hours before he was put on a guard duty with a gun.

Richard Wilkinson, counsel for Lt Cdr Molyneux’s family told the hearing that police found “significant” numbers of the crew were involved on getting “drunk out of their minds”.

“Detective superintendent Tony Harris was highly alarmed at the alcohol consumption of the Astute’s crew and he took the unprecedented action of writing to the chief constable.

“It was normal practice for the crew of the boat to drink heavily while on shore leave, consuming alcohol over an extended period until they passed out and then returned to duty after five or six hours,” he told the hearing.

The Royal Navy has since tightened its rules on alcohol consumption before duty.

At the time sailors were allowed 10 units in the previous 24 hours with no alcohol in the 10 hours before duty, which has now been changed to five units.

Mr Wilkinson asked the nuclear-powered sub’s captain at the time, Commander Iain Breckenbridge, whether he had any concerns about his crew drinking ashore during the goodwill visit to Southampton in April 2011 when the killing and the shooting of another officer took place.

He told the inquest that he had been told of no concerns about the crew and he had no concerns about Donovan before the shootings and he was “surprised” to hear of the police’s fears of binge drinking by the crew.

But when asked if tighter controls should be put in place to check such as breathalysing crew, Cdr Breckenbridge said: “to minimise the chances of a similar event, it’s something that should be seriously considered but that’s for the policy makers.”

Cdr Breckenbridge explained that he believed that most of his crew were responsible and did not drink before they went on duty and were not drunk when they reported for duty.

He said he could not go and check what his crew were doing when they were ashore as they were on leave.

He told the hearing he was in another part of the nuclear-powered sub when he heard the bangs from Donovan’s rifle.

“I just knew we had to go in the other direction. Unfortunately we did not get everyone out of the way,” he said.

He said he returned to the control room area where the shootings had taken place and said his Executive Officer was shouting “negligent discharge” but he said there had been too many shots for that.

He then saw Donovan was being restrained on the floor by two men, one of which was Royston Smith, leader of Southampton City Council at the time.

He was visiting the submarine with other dignitaries and members of the public at the time and a school party had just left.

Cdr Breckenbridge said he could see that Commander Christopher Hodge who was shot in the stomach was being comforted and then he saw Lt Cdr Molyneux lying at a right angle.

“I saw a white shirt, two-and-a-half stripes and I thought that was Ian. I saw the catastrophic injuries to his head and I thought, ‘that looks bad’.”

The senior officer then paid tribute to his dead colleague, who had gone towards Donovan during the gun rampage.

“If he had not done that, Donovan would have had the opportunity to shoot more people. Ian’s acts were phenomenally brave.”

Donovan, 23, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years after pleading guilty at Winchester Crown Court to the murder of father-of-four Lt Cdr Molyneux.

The hearing continues