A trial involving allegations of bullying against 16 army instructors has collapsed.
Twenty-eight soldiers aged 16 and 17 had claimed they were abused and assaulted by instructors at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate over a nine-day period in the summer of 2014.
They claimed to have been slapped or punched in the face, spat at, grabbed by the throat, had their faces submerged in mud and ordered to eat manure.
The trial was stopped after it was deemed that there was insufficient evidence to allow the case to proceed. It emerged that an investigator for the special investigation branch of the Royal Military police did not speak to possible witnesses because they assumed they would not be honest about what they had seen.
The assistant judge advocate general Alan Large who oversaw the case at the military court centre in Bulford, Wiltshire said:
“The decision to rule out army instructors, warrant officer, a number of captains and a major who was entrusted with the welfare and training of a company of army recruits…was seriously flawed.”
“The investigator should pursue all reasonable lines of inquiry, whether they point towards or away from the suspect. The decision not to interview at any stage during a very long inquiry such highly relevant eyewitnesses is a very serious breach of duty upon police officers to investigate a case fairly and objectively.”
Echoes of Deepcut
This case comes as the inquest into the death of Sean Benton, who died at Deepcut army barracks in June 1995, continues to hear evidence about the bullying of young recruits by senior officers.
Benton’s family have campaigned for years for a full investigation into his death amid allegations he suffered prolonged physical and psychological bullying.
Time for change
We are regularly approached by current and former service personnel who have been left doubly traumatised by the failure of the MoD to properly investigate allegations of harassment and assault.
Failings, such as those uncovered in this case, deny individuals the justice they should be entitled to through criminal proceedings. In some cases this can mean that they are denied any means of legal redress. The failure to interview witnesses and gather evidence in a timely manner can severely prejudice any civil claim that might otherwise have been open to them.
Complacency cannot allowed be allowed to prevail where such incidents are repeated without censure. I would echo calls for a change in the law which would mean that the most serious allegations of abuse are investigated by civilian police and tried in civilian courts.
The MoD’s criminal judicial system cannot be considered fit for purpose where there is no accountability or transparency and where victims of abuse and assault are not afforded due process.