Nine British servicemen have been thrown off a nuclear submarine at the centre of a sex probe, after testing positive for cocaine while on duty.
In one of the worst scandals to hit the Navy, the crew from HMS Vigilant – which carries the Trident nuclear deterrent – were sent home and kicked out of the service after the class A drug was found in their blood.
They are alleged to have had drug-fuelled parties while the submarine was docked in the US to pick up nuclear warheads. One man is said to have had sex with a prostitute in a swimming pool.
In one of the worst scandals to hit the Navy, the crew from HMS Vigilant (pictured) were sent home and kicked out of the service after cocaine was found in their blood
It can also be revealed that the submarine’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Commander Michael Seal, 36, has been removed amid claims of an extra-marital affair with a female engineering officer – Lieutenant Hannah Litchfield, 27. She too has been taken off the vessel.
The submarine was already embroiled in controversy over an alleged affair between its captain, Commander Stuart Armstrong, 41, and Sub-Lieutenant Rebecca Edwards, 25. Again, both have been removed from duty on board.
The submarine’s captain and his second-in-command are the only officers on board with access to a grey safe which contains a ‘letter of last resort’ from the Prime Minister. It details guidance and orders to be followed should the UK be attacked with nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, another serviceman on the vessel faces court martial after going AWOL – absent without leave – and boarding a flight to the UK to see his girlfriend. Two more submariners have quit the boat in the wake of the scandals.
It means that around 10 per cent of HMS Vigilant’s 168-strong crew have either been kicked out, quit, are under investigation or have been removed in what is believed to be one of the biggest sex and drugs scandals to hit the Navy.
The matter is so serious that the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, has been quizzed about the scandal by the Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, who is said to be ‘furious’.
A major Ministry of Defence probe into the drug scandal on HMS Vigilant is now under way. Pictured, Royal Navy personel take part in a remembrance parade
A Royal Navy submarine cabin (pictured) is cramped, with nine bunks across three tiers
It is understood Sir Philip has been ordered to force mandatory drug tests across the entire submarine fleet to ‘reassure the Defence Secretary that this was an isolated incident’. A major investigation is also under way in the Ministry of Defence.
HMS Vigilant is one of Britain’s four Vanguard-class submarines which carry up to eight Trident missiles armed with nuclear warheads.
Britain has had a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent since 1969. At least one of the four submarines is always supposed to be on patrol at any given time.
The fact that such a serious scandal could unfold on board one of these vessels is likely to cause considerable alarm.
It will also raise questions over whether men and women should be allowed to serve together under water for such long periods.
The crew from HMS Vigilant are alleged to have had drug-fuelled parties while the submarine was docked in the US to pick up nuclear warheads (crew members, not pictured)
Women have served on Navy surface ships since 1990 but a ban on them serving on submarines was not overturned until 2011. The first female submariners started work three years ago.
Last night, a Navy source said: ‘These guys had been under the sea for 91 days – what do you think is going to happen? It was a month-long party and it should not have been happening. HMS Vigilant has become known as the party boat.’
Rear Admiral Chris Parry, former commander of a Type 42 destroyer, said: ‘This is not just a submarine, it is one of our deterrence submarines. It is absolutely disgraceful. People in the Navy should remember playing for our country on an international level is a great privilege. It is a question of putting service before self.
‘Duty is everything. As Lord Nelson said, ‘Duty is the great business of a sea officer, all private considerations must give way to it’.’
Within the chain of command, relationships are banned. Where relationships exist in a crew outside the command chain a strict ‘no touching’ policy is in place while on deployment.
HMS Vigilant was already embroiled in controversy over an alleged affair between its captain, Cdr Stuart Armstrong (pictured), 41, and Sub-Lieutenant Rebecca Edwards, 25
The scandal erupted when the submarine sailed to Kings Bay, Georgia, in the US in September. Senior naval chiefs were dispatched to the nuclear submarine after a whistleblower at the vessel’s Faslane base reported concerns about two affairs.
Once it docked, officers were put up in a £100-a-night hotel in Florida and junior and senior submariners were put up in a cheaper hotel. They were in-between the hotels and the submarine for a month while work was carried out on the boat.
Junior sailors first knew something was wrong when they were ordered by senior officers to delete all of their social media accounts.
They were then told to get back on the submarine for a meeting, where they were told the captain had been removed.
A few days later Lieutenant Commander Seal was taken off, with Lieutenant Edwards and Lieutenant Litchfield, for questioning.
While the investigation into the alleged affairs was ongoing, junior and senior rates had drug-fuelled parties in their hotel and one man cavorted with prostitutes in the swimming pool, it is claimed. Senior officers got wind of the parties and ordered a drugs test before the crew were let back on board.
Nine of the junior rates failed the test. Four of them were flown home immediately before being kicked out of the Navy in recent weeks.
A further five were also sent home during an investigation and were kicked out yesterday.
Days before HMS Vigilant left the US, one of the submariners decided he had had enough and flew back home to see his girlfriend. He was arrested several hours after arriving in the UK and now faces court marital for going AWOL.
Two sailors also quit after details of the affairs emerged and after they were told some of their leave would be cancelled next year.
Five officers threatened to quit over the scandal, although it is understood no officers actually handed in their notice. The crew on the boat was around 168-strong, including seven women.
Last night, a Navy spokesman said: ‘We do not tolerate the misuse of drugs by service personnel. Those found to have fallen short of our high standards face being discharged from service.’
The spokesman confirmed an investigation was underway.
Revealed, the Navy girl in a fling with No2
Lieutenant Hannah Litchfield (pictured), 27, an engineering officer on HMS Vigilant, is believed to have had an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with the boat’s second-in-command
The identity of the female Navy officer in her 20s at the centre of a nuclear submarine sex scandal can be revealed today.
Lieutenant Hannah Litchfield, 27, an engineering officer on HMS Vigilant, is believed to have had an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with the boat’s second-in-command.
Married Lieutenant Commander Michael Seal, 36, was last month hauled off the Vanguard-class submarine, which carries Trident missiles, amid accusations he was having a liaison with a subordinate.
He was removed from the boat after it docked in the US just days after the captain was taken off amid claims he too was in a relationship with a female junior officer.
The captain and second-in-command are the only officers to have their own rooms.
As the more senior officers, the men are expected to face a greater punishment than the women should they be found to have breached the Navy’s social conduct regulations.
Relationships within the chain of command are banned and where relationships exist in a crew but outside the command chain a strict ‘no touching’ policy is in place.
Both women were quizzed about the allegations after a whistleblower at the vessel’s Faslane base reported concerns about two affairs. The men were taken off the boat and relieved of their duties while the investigation is ongoing.
The women were able to continue their work while the investigation is carried out, although they are no longer on the boat because they were due to finish the deployment anyway.
Father-of-two Lieutenant Commander Seal is married to Jennifer, 36, who lives at their family home in Kirkcaldy, Fife.
A Royal Navy spokesman said: ‘We can confirm an investigation is underway, but it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.
‘Any allegations of wrongdoing are taken very seriously and will be dealt with appropriately.’
Captain and officer who dressed in his uniform
The captain of HMS Vigilant was the first to be hauled off the submarine over the scandal when it docked in the US last month.
Commander Stuart Armstrong, 41, was relieved of his duties amid claims he was having an affair with a junior officer.
She was named as Sub-Lieutenant Rebecca Edwards, a 25-year-old weapons engineering officer on the boat, and a first-class honours physicist.
Commander Stuart Armstrong (right), 41, was relieved of his duties amid claims he was having an affair with a junior officer Rebecca Edwards (left)
The Bristol University graduate was said to have dressed in the captain’s uniform during boozy horseplay.
She is believed to have worn his gold epaulettes and barked out joke orders to other officers aboard the Vanguard-class submarine.
Their alleged affair led to five officers threatening to resign in protest at what they considered a blatant breach of the Navy’s ‘no touching’ rules
Commander Armstrong had been in charge of HMS Vigilant only since February this year, after serving on HMS Artful from December 2015.
He met Sub-Lieutenant Edwards, who had qualified as a submariner last year, following the collapse of his marriage to Sally Young.
The captain had married Miss Young – a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve – in 2005 and had moved around various ships before working for Nato in 2012.
The marriage ended, according to a source close to her family, because of the strains of military life.
Before joining the Navy in 2014, Sub-Lieutenant Edwards had lived with her 50-year-old father, who is also thought to have a background in the armed forces, in Kettering, Northamptonshire.
She faces being fined or demoted pending an official inquiry. Although she is no longer on the submarine, she is still working while the investigation is ongoing.
Her family have condemned Commander Armstrong for allegedly preying on a junior crew member.
Navy wives who didn’t want sailor girls on board have been proved right
by David Wilkes
For the rest of us, nuclear submarines are terrifying instruments of war that could end civilisation. But for the sailors who live on them, it is their workplace.
Cocooned in a cramped vessel, they are ready to jump into action to defend against a potentially catastrophic attack – or launch one themselves. ‘Anyone who says submariners have an easy life, ought to see for themselves,’ said the Navy’s Rear-Admiral Henry Parker.
Claustrophobia is an occupational hazard, with a working pattern of six hours on, six hours off. At one point in the Seventies, the length and regularity of patrols meant no crew member would ever be present at the birth of his child.
A typical cabin consists of nine bunks, arranged in three tiers of three. There’s not enough room to sit up to read in bed.
As one sailor on today’s Vanguard-class sub, which carries Trident missiles, put it: ‘You are literally on top of each other.’
Of HMS Vigilant’s 168 crew, seven are women. They have separate cabins, showers and loos from the men.
Britain’s first three female submariners graduated three years ago, ending 110 years of all-male tradition.
Women were excluded from subs amid fears that carbon dioxide in recycled air could damage their fertility. But a report concluded such concerns were ‘unfounded’ and the ban was overturned in 2011 – despite unease from some male colleagues’ wives over the close conditions men and women would be working in.
To accommodate mixed-sex crews, up to £3 million was spent modifying HMS Vigilant, another Vanguard-class submarine, and two Astute-class hunter-killers.
One of the first women to qualify as a submariner was Lieutenant Alexandra Olsson, then 26, from Tranmere, Merseyside.
Describing the living conditions, she said: ‘It’s slightly more cramped than you would be used to. It’s a bit of an odd place to live – everything smells the same, it all has this diesel oily smell which you have to get used to.’
Women endure the same privations as the men: Not a glimpse of daylight, no fresh air and very long periods during which they cannot speak to loved ones.
Then there’s the smell of body odour. Submariners cannot use perfume or deodorant because they would contaminate the atmosphere. In an anecdote related in Sub, a book by Danny Danziger who spent two weeks on a Navy nuclear submarine, one submariner described his wife waiting for him at the front door with a bottle of household odour spray Febreze when he came home from leave – she doused him before he was allowed in the house.
Food-wise, much of the produce is frozen and the menus are inevitably repetitive. And entertainment is scant. In the mess room, crew can play games or watch DVDs, and there’s also gym equipment such as rowing machines. Smoking, hardly surprisingly, is banned and alcohol strictly rationed.
All water used on subs has to be distilled from seawater, so showers tend to be brief and sporadic.
Nevertheless, showers are the most common place for trysts, as it is almost impossible elsewhere unless you are, say, the captain or his second in command with your own cabin.