One of the largest inquiries into alleged abuse of teenage Army recruits in Britain has collapsed after the Royal Military Police bungled the investigation.
A judge branded the three-year police probe ‘seriously flawed’ amid problems of missing evidence and claims of witness coercion.
There are fears the Royal Military Police may have mishandled other cases such as Operation Northmoor – the inquiry into alleged abuses by British soldiers in Afghanistan – and there are now calls for senior RMP officers to be investigated.
Royal Military Police spent three years investigating abuse against teenage army recruits who were allegedy punched in the face and spat on while posted to the Army Foundation College in Harrogate . Above, a stock image from the college
It was alleged that 16 instructors, all sergeants or corporals, abused 28 school leavers while attending the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
The recruits told a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, the instructors would get them fired up by making them play British Bulldog.
WHO WERE THE 16 ARMY FOUNDATION COLLEGE INSTRUCTORS?
– Sergeant Simon Girault, 29, of 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was accused of four charges of battery and five of ill-treatment. He was found not guilty of three charges of battery and three charges of ill-treatment. The remaining charges were stayed.
– Staff Sergeant Steven Harrison, 34, of 3rd Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, was accused of one charge of battery and one of ill-treatment. He was acquitted of battery and the ill-treatment charge was stayed.
– Sergeant Thomas Bryan, 31, of 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, was accused of one charge of battery and one of ill-treatment. He was acquitted of ill-treatment and the battery charge was stayed.
– Staff Sergeant Brian Crawford, 32, of 152 (North Irish) Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps, was accused of six charges of ill-treatment. He was acquitted of five charges and the sixth was stayed.
– Corporal Andrew Armitage, 33, of 156 Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps, was accused of one charge of ill-treatment. This charge was stayed.
– Sergeant Mark Graham, 31, of the HQ Defence Food Services School, Royal Logistic Corps, was accused of four charges of ill-treatment. He was found not guilty on all charges.
– Acting Sergeant Steven Duncan, 32, of 1st Battalion Scots Guards, was accused of four charges of ill-treatment. He was found not guilty on all charges.
– Acting Sergeant Daniel Royle, 33, of 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, was accused of one charge of ill-treatment. He was found not guilty.
– Corporal Anthony Thomas, 31, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, was accused of one charge of ill-treatment. He was found not guilty.
– Sergeant Robert Comley, 33, of The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, was accused of one charge of ill-treatment. He was found not guilty.
In a second court martial beginning on March 12 Acting Sgts Duncan and Royle were due to go on trial accused of eight charges alleged to have taken place at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate between July 2013 and October 2014.
Following the abuse of process ruling in the first court martial, the prosecution offered no evidence and the defendants were acquitted.
– Acting Sergeant Steven Duncan, of 1st Battalion Scots Guards, was accused of two charges of ill-treatment, two charges of battery and one of conduct prejudicial to good order and service discipline.
– Acting Sergeant Daniel Royle, of 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, was accused of two charges of ill-treatment and one of conduct prejudicial to good order and service discipline.
On April 16 the final six instructors were to face a court martial accused of accused of 24 offences relating to alleged abuse at a battle camp in Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway, in June 2014.
Following the abuse of process ruling in the first court martial the prosecution offered no evidence and the defendants were acquitted.
– Sergeant David Harley, of the Scots Dragoon Guards, faced one charge of ill-treatment and three of battery.
– Sergeant Anthony Owen, of The Parachute Regiment, faced six charges of ill-treatment and one of battery.
– Sergeant Jonathan Carter, of 1st Battalion, Royal Horse Artillery, faced two charges of ill-treatment, one of battery and one of actual bodily harm.
– Corporal Hassan Ghaith, of The Parachute Regiment, faced three charges of ill-treatment and two of battery.
– Colour Sergeant Scott Dyson, of the Infantry Battle School, faced three charges of battery.
– Former Lance Corporal of Horse Stephen Warren, of the Household Cavalry Regiment, faced one charge of ill-treatment.
They’d be made to run between two hills ahead of bayonet training during a battle camp at Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway, in the summer of 2014.
It was claimed the teenagers, who were aged 16 or 17, were slapped and punched in the face, spat at, grabbed by the throat, ‘clotheslined’, had their faces submerged in mud and were forced to eat animal manure.
But after eight days, the prosecution offered no evidence in 24 of the 31 charges the first ten defendants faced, meaning five were acquitted and walked free from court.
The trial of the remaining five instructors continued for another day until Assistant Judge Advocate General Alan Large stayed proceedings, ruling they could not get a fair trial.
Following his ruling the prosecution indicated it would offer no evidence against a further six instructors.
Large condemned RMP for a ‘seriously flawed’ and ‘totally blinkered approach’ to the investigation.
Restrictions remained in force until the conclusion of the final court martial featuring two of the defendants from the first trial but at the 11th hour it was also dropped.
Now with all criminal proceedings over, it can now be revealed that the Royal Military Police botched the investigation by taking a ‘policy decision’ not to secure evidence that might ‘undermine the prosecution’s case’.
It was split into ten separate inquiries investigating complaints from 40 recruits against 30 instructors, which resulted in the failed prosecution of 16 defendants in three court martials.
Ten went on trial in February facing 31 charges, two from the first court martial were due to face trial in March accused of eight offences, with a further six instructors being tried in April on 24 charges.
The officer leading the investigation, Captain Teresa Spanton, did not question eyewitnesses, including a major, several captains and a warrant officer, because she believed they would lie in their witness statements.
The judge described her decision as ‘frankly, startling’.
Capt Spanton is the officer who took criticism for the RMP’s handling of the probe, but it was apparently a policy decision approved by those above her.
Handwritten accounts made by some recruits shortly after the alleged abuse have never been found and neither have up to 500 photographs of the training taken by an officer.
It also took two years to interview under caution the accused soldiers and another 12 months before they knew they were being charged.
Lewis Cherry, a Northern Ireland-based solicitor who specialises in military law, said: ‘I have never found anything that has been as badly done as this. This is so absolutely appalling.
‘I am normally a bit cynical about it but this time I am lost for words. Not only was this policy running in 2014, it was allowed to keep running until 2018 and absolutely nobody has called a halt.
‘This policy decision was not taken by a lowly captain alone; those managing the RMP investigations over those years must themselves now be investigated.
‘I just don’t know where it is going to go. I’ve had my doubts about them for many years but I couldn’t believe it was this bad. It has never been proved to me that it is this bad.’
During the court martial, several of the teenagers gave evidence that conflicted with their original written statements given to the RMP.
Some recruits were accused of lying by barristers representing the defendants by saying things in court that were not in their statements.
Others alleged they had been forced or threatened into making statements and to come to court to give evidence in person.
One recruit said: ‘I was forced into making one in Catterick by the platoon staff in Catterick.’
A guardsman said the RMP suggested names to him during his interview saying things like ‘Did you see such and such?’
‘It wasn’t really a case of if you didn’t want to be a part of it you could say no,’ he said.
‘That was how it was put to me – that I’d be doing a disservice to future recruits and there could be an alternative motive proven as to why I’d chosen not to say anything.’
One barrister suggested that sounded like a threat.
The guardsman replied: ‘Yeah, it did kind of intimidate me into coming forward with it.
‘It did feel like there was quite a lot of pressure put on your shoulders to come forward and do the right thing. There was no way of saying no. Your choice was removed.’
Emma Sangster, co-ordinator of ForcesWatch – which scrutinises the ethics of armed forces – said she was ‘alarmed’ and called for a full review.
‘The Army has a special duty of care towards 16 and 17-year-old recruits and the system of dealing with complaints is an important part of this,’ she said.
‘It is vital that serving personnel are able to trust the military justice system should they experience bullying or harassment. We are calling for a full review of how these cases were handled, from investigation to the trial process itself.
‘Not only has the investigation of these complaints been seriously mishandled, the prosecution today offered no evidence in the final case, which resulted in the charges being dropped, yet no explanation has been given.
‘The armed forces are the only organisations in the UK that are allowed to investigate their own crimes and conduct their own criminal trials.
‘There are obvious dangers in organisations being allowed to police themselves when faced with criminal allegations of the abuse of young people.
‘What is really needed now is a change in the law so that serious allegations of abuse against members of the armed forces are investigated by civilian police and tried in civilian courts.’
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