Home » Widow of Army Commonwealth recruit who collapsed and died during fitness test is suing MoD

Widow of Army Commonwealth recruit who collapsed and died during fitness test is suing MoD

The widow of a British Army Commonwealth recruit who collapsed and died during a fitness test is suing the MoD and its civilian recruitment company for over £200,000 compensation.

Youngson Nkhoma, 30, from Malawi, was taking part in a timed 2km run at an assessment centre in Lichfield, Staffordshire, on November 27, 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, Kamil Iddrisu, 25, had died in an almost identical manner during a similar test at Lichfield.

Now his widow Latia Nkhoma is suing the MoD and its commercial recruitment partners Capita Business Services Ltd, demanding a payout of more than £200,000 to compensate her and their baby for her husband’s death.

Mr Nkhoma had applied to join the British Army as part of a recruitment drive begun in November 2019, during which rules requiring Commonwealth nationals to have lived in the UK for five years before applying to the forces were temporarily relaxed.

Youngson Nkhoma, from Malawi, died in hospital from catastrophic organ failure after collapsing during a timed 2km run at an assessment centre in Lichfield

Both recruits were training at Whittington Barracks in Staffordshire and suffered from undiagnosed sickle cell disease - a blood condition that be fatal during extreme exercise and most commonly affects people with African ancestry

Both recruits were training at Whittington Barracks in Staffordshire and suffered from undiagnosed sickle cell disease – a blood condition that be fatal during extreme exercise and most commonly affects people with African ancestry

A coroner’s inquest following the deaths of the recruits revealed Mr Nkhoma and the other man who died both had sickle cell trait, an inherited condition more common in people with certain genetic backgrounds, including those with African heritage.

What is sickle cell disease 

Sickle cell disease is the umbrella term for a group of inherited conditions that severely affect red blood cells.

Around 15,000 people in the UK are sufferers and it is particularly common in people of African or Caribbean descent.

Healthy red blood cells – produced by stem cells within bone marrow – are biconcaved discs that can bend and flex easily.

However, in those with sickle cell disease, faulty stem cells produce red blood cells that are crescent shaped.

They are rigid, unable to squeeze through smaller blood vessels and prone to causing blockages that deprive parts of the body of oxygen. 

Sufferers are not expected to live beyond 60 and treatment mainly focuses on alleviating symptoms, such as pain and infections, through blood transfusions and painkillers. 

The condition can lead the body to fatally break down when triggered by overexertion or strenuous exercise, especially in extreme temperatures.

Muscles start to disintegrate, releasing fibres into the bloodstream, which clog vital organs in a deadly process known as rhabdomyolysis.

In 2021, the Defence Safety Authority held an inquiry into the deaths and the collapse of several other Commonwealth Army hopefuls who survived, finding that lapses had occurred in the selection process and in the provision of health and safety equipment on the days of the tests.

As a result of the coroner’s findings, the MoD now routinely screens recruits for sickle cell trait with blood tests.

The MoD are now being sued along with Capita, a business services company which has had a contract to handle army recruitment since 2012.

In papers lodged with the High Court, Irwin Mitchell, lawyers for widow Latia Nkhoma, say: ‘The claim arises following an accident that took place on 27 November 2019 at the Army Assessment Centre in Lichfield.

‘The deceased, a Malawian national who had applied to the British Army through the Commonwealth Recruitment Initiative, was undertaking the physical assessment stage of the recruitment process, which consisted of a 2km run.

‘As the deceased approached the finish line he collapsed and was hospitalised, but passed away that evening.

‘The cause of death was later determined to be multi-organ failure, exertional rhabdomyolysis, sickle cell trait and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

‘The claimant alleges that the first and second defendant were negligent or in breach of their duty of care by reason of the acts or omissions of its employees, servants or agents and is therefore liable to compensate the claimant for the injuries and losses sustained.’

The High Court writ puts the value of the widow’s claim at more than £200,000.

A spokesperson for Youngson’s family said after the inquiry: ‘Youngson had been chatting about the Army for a long time and was excited about being invited to the selection process.

‘When he collapsed just short of the finish line, it was a huge shock, but not for one minute did we expect to get told he had passed away. At that moment, our whole world changed and the grief has been overwhelming.

‘Losing Youngson at such a young age was nothing short of traumatic and something we’ll never get over, but we’re grateful that the inquest has at least provided us with some answers.

‘We just hope that noone else will have to go through what we have; we wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone.’

Defences to the action by the MoD and Capita have not yet been made publicly available by the court.