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Army Foundation College recruit abuse investigation 2014–18

Recruits at the Army Foundation College, Yorkshire, UK.

The Army Foundation College recruit abuse investigation 2014–18 was a response to allegations from a group of 17-year-old British army recruits that 17 instructors had maltreated them during their training over nine days in June 2014.[1][2][3] It was reported as the British army's largest ever investigation of abuse.[1][4] Among the allegations were that the instructors assaulted recruits, smeared cattle dung into their mouths, and held their heads under water.[2][1][4] The accused were initially charged with 40 counts of battery, actual bodily harm, and other offences;[1][2][3] all denied the charges made against them.[1][2][5]

Charges against seven of the accused were dropped by the time of the preliminary hearing on 21 September 2017. The court martial began with the remaining ten accused on 12 February 2018.[3][6] The hearing was expected to last four weeks,[7] but soon collapsed after the judge ruled that the Royal Military Police (RMP) had abused the investigatory process and that a fair trial would therefore not be possible.[8] Specifically, the judge criticised the investigation as 'seriously flawed': the RMP had failed to interview several key witnesses, took two years to arrest the accused for questioning under caution, and took three years to bring the case to trial.[8] All the accused were released without further charges.[9]

BackgroundEdit

The British army enlists new recruits from age 16.[10] Recruits aged between 16 and 17.5 years, known as Junior Soldiers (JS), undergo 12 months of initial training based at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, Yorkshire.[11] Towards the end of this period, recruits destined for the infantry travel to battle camp in Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway, which includes bayonet practice.[12] Infantry recruits then complete their training at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick, Yorkshire.[13]

Allegations of abuse at the Army Foundation College have been common. Between 2014 and 2017, recruits made 50 formal complaints of assault or ill-treatment.[14]

Allegations and chargesEdit

Among the initial allegations reported in the Mail on Sunday on 12 August 2017 were that seventeen instructors from the Army Foundation College, having taken their trainees to battle camp in Kirkcudbright, had pushed cow dung into the recruits' mouths, held their heads under water, and kicked and punched them repeatedly during bayonet training.[5] The recruits concerned were aged 17;[1] the instructors were all corporals or sergeants,[15] and included veterans of the Afghanistan War and Iraq War.[1]

The instructors faced 40 charges of battery, actual bodily harm and other ill-treatment.[1][2][3][5] All the accused denied any wrongdoing.[1][2][5]

Court martialEdit

By the time of the preliminary hearing of 21 September 2017, charges against seven of the accused had been dropped, leaving ten defendants to face 25 counts of ill-treatment and six of battery.[7][16] All defendants entered not-guilty pleas.[7][16]

The trial began on 12 February 2018 at Bulford Military Court Centre with Assistant Judge Advocate General Alan Large presiding.[8] After the opening prosecution arguments, the defence applied to have the proceedings stayed as an abuse of process,[8] meaning that the allegations were not investigated and brought to court in proper order.[17] The judge agreed and, describing the investigation as 'seriously flawed' and 'totally blinkered', criticised the military police for failing to interview key witnesses and taking too long to bring the case to trial.[8] On grounds that the defendants could no longer be fairly tried, the judge stayed the case and all defendants were released.[8]

TimelineEdit

The following chronology is summarised from the legal judgement.[8]

  • June 2014: A cohort of infantry recruits aged 17 from the Army Foundation College travel to battle camp, where the incidents allegedly took place. The recruits concerned did not make a complaint at the time.
  • September 2014: The recruits concerned, now based at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick, are overheard by staff as they discuss the alleged incidents at Battle Camp. Their accounts are recorded informally and passed to the chain of command for action. The Royal Military Police are contacted.
  • October 2014: The military police take formal witness statements from the recruits concerned, some of whom allege abusive treatment by instructors at battle camp during bayonet practice between 6 and 15 June. A statement is also taken from the Staff Sergeant responsible for delivering bayonet training at battle camp that June, who declares that he did not witness any ill treatment at the time. Other instructors were also present, including some of the accused, but statements were not taken from them. The reason for this, as explained later to the Court Martial by the officer in charge of the investigation, was that collecting these additional witness statements would have caused delay and 'the permanent staff [i.e. the instructors] were unlikely to corroborate any allegations of assaults or manhandling of the JS [i.e. the Junior Soldiers or trainees]'. In giving evidence to the court martial, the officer said of the Battle Camp instructors: 'It was unlikely they would say they had witnessed anything—they were likely to say they had not seen anything... If they said they had witnessed it and done nothing they would have incriminated themselves.'
  • December 2014: By December 2014, approximately 40 junior soldiers have made allegations against approximately 30 members of staff.
  • September 2016: Two years after the alleged incidents, the accused are arrested and questioned under caution.
  • July 2017: The Service Prosecution Authority, which prosecutes on behalf of the armed forces, decides to send the case for trial at court martial.
  • September 2017: At the preliminary hearing of the court martial on 21 September, all defendants plead not guilty pending a full hearing from 12 February 2018.
  • February 2018: After the prosecution arguments, defence counsel argue that the failure to interview potential key witnesses, as well as the long delay between the alleged incidents and trial amount to an abuse of process and they apply for the proceedings to be stayed. The judge agrees and the five defendants are released on the grounds that a fair trial is no longer possible.

ReactionEdit

The collapse of the case was reported on the BBC[9] ITV,[18] STV,[19] and in the Guardian,[15] Daily Mail,[20] Mirror,[21] Northern Echo,[22] Telegraph,[23] Times,[24] Yorkshire Evening Post,[25] and Yorkshire Post.[26]

Lewis Cherry, a defence lawyer at the court martial interviewed for the BBC said he was 'appalled' by the failure of the military police to conduct its investigation in proper order, and said his clients would be 'relieved that the nightmare of these false allegations hanging over them for many years is over'.[23][9]

Human rights campaigners argued that the 'multiple failures' that led to the case collapsing showed that the military should not be entrusted to administer its own justice.[15][9] The campaign group ForcesWatch said that the case's collapse meant that 'serious allegations of abuse against some of the army's youngest recruits have gone untested'.[15]

The Ministry of Defence announced an internal review.[9]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Farmer, Ben (13 August 2017). "Army instructors 'punched and kicked teenage recruits'". Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 20 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Perraudin, Frances (13 August 2017). "17 army instructors charged with assaulting teenage recruits". Guardian. Archived from the original on 19 February 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "Army instructors face assault charges". BBC News. 13 August 2017. Archived from the original on 10 November 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b "British Army's 'largest ever abuse case' begins". iNews. 12 February 2018. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d Nicol, Mark (12 August 2017). "Seventeen army instructors charged with attacking recruits". Mail on Sunday. Archived from the original on 23 December 2017. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Army 'recruit abuse' trial starts". BBC News. 12 February 2018. Archived from the original on 27 October 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Morris, Steven (21 September 2017). "UK army instructors in court over claims they physically abused teen recruits". Guardian. Archived from the original on 20 March 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "R v Girault and Others Ruling on Abuse of Process" (PDF). 28 February 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e "'Flawed' Army abuse trial halted". BBC News. 19 March 2018. Archived from the original on 27 October 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  10. ^ British army (2018). "Can I Join". Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  11. ^ British army (2018). "AFC Harrogate". Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  12. ^ UK, Ministry of Defence (11 February 2018). "Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, ref. FOI2015/00741". Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  13. ^ Lancaster, Mark (29 November 2017). "Army: Resignations:Written question – 116490". UK Parliament. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  14. ^ Morris, Steven (23 March 2018). "Teenage army recruits make 50 allegations of ill-treatment at college". Guardian. Archived from the original on 17 June 2018. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d Morris, Steven (19 March 2018). "UK army investigators under fire as bullying trial collapses". Guardian. Archived from the original on 22 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  16. ^ a b "Ten army instructors face trial over alleged abuse of recruits". Mail Online. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  17. ^ Lennon, Jonathan; Rahman, Aziz (17 December 2014). "Abuse of Process". Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  18. ^ "Harrogate Army Foundation College recruits alleged abuse case collapses". ITV News. Archived from the original on 20 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  19. ^ Foote, Chris (19 March 2018). "Inquiry into abuse of army recruits in Scotland collapses". STV News. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  20. ^ Boyd, Connor (19 March 2018). "Inquiry into alleged abuse against teen army recruits collapses". Daily Mail. Archived from the original on 25 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  21. ^ Minchin, Rod (19 March 2018). "Inquiry into alleged Army recruit abuse collapses over bungled investigation". Mirror. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  22. ^ "Inquiry into alleged abuse of teenage Army recruits collapses after flawed police investigation". Northern Echo. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  23. ^ a b Farmer, Ben (19 March 2018). "Three-year inquiry into 'abusive' army instructors collapses as judge blasts 'seriously flawed' investigation". Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  24. ^ "Abuse inquiry collapses amid claims of military police 'bungling'". Times. 19 March 2018. ISSN 0140-0460. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  25. ^ "Harrogate 'abuse': Who were the 16 army foundation college instructors involved in the investigation?". Yorkshire Evening Post. 19 March 2018. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  26. ^ "Harrogate 'abuse': What the teenage army recruits told the court martial". Yorkshire Post. 19 March 2018. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.