One in 10 Army recruits ‘bullied and intimidated’

A decade after Deepcut, MoD reports reveal failure to tackle problem affecting hundreds of trainees.

Hundreds of young army recruits are still suffering from physical beatings and intimidation at the hands of their instructors, despite a series of fatalities at training camps in recent years and amid allegations that soldiers were being bullied to death.

A series of previously unpublicised reports obtained by this newspaper highlight growing concern surrounding the issue this weekend. They include a new annual survey of recruits by the Ministry of Defence that reveals that hundreds report having been beaten or intimidated by their superiors. More than one in 10 of all trainee soldiers – what the report describes as a “notable minority” – claimed to have been unfairly or badly treated and, of these, more than one in five said they had been picked on continually.

According to the report, made available to MPs just over a week ago, less than three-quarters of recruits felt that training was always conducted without sexual or racial harassment. And nearly a quarter did not feel able to take their concerns to a person in authority.

Another, unpublished, report obtained this weekend sheds light on the extent of abuse being suffered by service personnel.… Read more

Conscience and the military

Armed forces chaplains play a crucial role in providing pastoral support to people who face danger and death on a daily basis. But chaplains’ independence is compromised by the fact that they are members of the forces themselves.

A retired army chaplain told me a story he knew about a wounded soldier in the Korean War. The soldier was told he had less than two hours to live, and someone sent for the nearest chaplain, a Baptist.

The chaplain talked with the wounded man about families and football, but the man said desperately, “Talk to me, padre, talk to me”. The chaplain continued to chat, before the soldier again said, “Talk to me, padre, talk to me”. Somewhat confused, the chaplain asked the soldier want he wanted to talk about. The man shouted “I’m dying, you bloody fool! You’re supposed to talk to me about God!”.

The anecdote illustrates one of the peculiarities of miltiary chaplaincy. Unlike most ministers, armed forces chaplains often serve people who face the danger of death on a daily basis, in a way unimaginable to most of us. Pastoral care is vital for members of the armed forces.

While admiring chaplains’ bravery and dedication, this should not stop us recognising the problems with the way military chaplaincy is structured.… Read more

More than 17,000 episodes of troops going Awol since 2003

British soldiers have gone on the run from their posts on more than 17,000 occasions since the start of the Iraq war, The Independent can reveal.

As resources for the armed forces remain stretched to cope with Britain’s commitments in Afghanistan, official figures from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) show that there were more than 2,000 cases of soldiers going absent without leave (awol) last year, with 17,470 incidents recorded since the Iraq invasion in 2003.

The internal Government statistics, released to The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act, show that 375 soldiers remained at large at the end of last year, although MoD sources insisted that the figure has since fallen. Army officials are battling hard to tackle the problem that has persisted throughout Britain’s gruelling operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.… Read more

Should the armed forces recruit 16-year-olds?

Rachel Taylor, from the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, argues that it is time for British armed forces to join the rest of NATO and stop recruiting people as young as 16.

Until ten years ago it was standard practice for the UK to deploy under-18s into hostilities. They were on the frontline in the Balkans, the Gulf and the Falklands. However, since the coming into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2002 (ratified by the UK in 2003) the routine deployment of under-18s has been prohibited in international law. The UK, like other states parties to the treaty, now takes measures to prevent the deployment of under-18s. Deployment of under-18s now appears archaic and abhorrent to the public and policy makers alike.… Read more