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Army allowed to conduct its own trial of alleged abusers

Belford Military Court Centre

Army allowed to conduct its own trial of alleged abusers

As 16 army instructors face a court-martial tomorrow (Monday 12 February) for allegedly abusing teenage recruits, critics have asked why the armed forces are the only employers in the UK allowed to conduct their own criminal trials.

The court-martial, scheduled to last between three and four weeks, will take place at Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire. Sixteen sergeants and corporals are accused of assaulting recruits - all aged under 18 - in various ways, including smearing animal faeces into their mouths, forcing their heads under water and repeatedly hitting them.

The trial could have major implications for the army’s attempts to improve its image. However, the verdict will be reached by a panel of army officers. 

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) today argued that the alleged abusers should face a civilian court, pointing out that no other employer would be allowed to conduct their own criminal trial of staff accused of abusing teenage colleagues. 

The abuse is alleged to have taken place at a training camp in Kirkcudbright in Scotland in 2014. The recruits were based at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

The PPU said that, if true, the allegations represent simply a more extreme form of the abuse routinely handed out to teenage recruits in the UK armed forces. 

The trial is likely to fuel more debate about the UK army’s recruitment age. The UK is one of very few countries still recruiting people under 18 into the armed forces. Ironically, the trial begins on the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers. 

Symon Hill, Co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union, said:

“Why is the army allowed to conduct its own trials? Other employers cannot run their own courts. If a manager at Tesco were accused of abusing a teenage member of staff, no-one would think it fair for him to be tried by a jury of Tesco managers. The army is effectively allowed to operate outside the law that the rest of us are required to abide by.”

PPU member Wayne Sharrocks, who was in the army from 2006 to 2013, said:

“I joined the army at 17 and saw many incidents similar to the ones described. Military training exists to mentally and physically condition you to follow orders without question and to remove your natural aversion to killing.”