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Army's alleged abusers on trial for 'smearing excrement' in teenage recruits' faces

Bulford Military Court Centre

Army's alleged abusers on trial for 'smearing excrement' in teenage recruits' faces

Seventeen sergeants and corporals in the UK army will face a preliminary hearing in a court-martial at the Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire from tomorrow (Thursday 21 September) over the alleged abuse of teenage recruits. They are accused of smearing animal faeces into the mouths of 17-year-olds, forcing their heads under water and repeatedly hitting them.

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

Ahead of the two-day hearing, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) warned that the allegations could represent only the tip of the iceberg of abuse in the armed forces. They said that, if true, the allegations are simply a more extreme form of the violent treatment routinely handed out to young recruits as part of their training.

The PPU, Britain's oldest secular pacifist group, said that armed forces brutalise recruits as part of the process of preparing them to kill and harm other people. 

The two-day hearing is expected to be the initial phase of a longer trial process. 

The Peace Pledge Union also questioned why the army is allowed to conduct its own trials, when an alleged abuser in any other organisation would be expected to face a civilian court.

The trial is likely to fuel more debate about the UK armed forces' recruitment age. The UK is one of few countries still recruiting people under 18 into the armed forces.

PPU member Wayne Sharrocks, a pacifist ex-soldier who joined the army aged 17 in 2006, said:

In my experience this is the culture of British infantry training. I joined at 17 and saw many incidents similar to the ones described. We were often told by instructors to turn around and look away while questionable things were taking place. Military training exists to mentally and physically condition you to follow orders without question and to remove your natural aversion to killing. My biggest shock is not that these thing are alleged to have happened but that the allegations have come to court.”

Peace Pledge Union Co-ordinator Symon Hill added:

The whole abusive culture of the armed forces needs to be exposed. Even though this case has come to court, it is a court-martial. Why is the army allowed to conduct its own trials? If a manager at Tesco were accused of abusing a teenage member of staff, no-one would expect him to be tried by a jury consisting entirely of Tesco managers. The army is effectively allowed to operate outside the law. It urgently needs to be opened to public scrutiny.”

The hearing is expected to take place at Bulford Military Court, north of Salisbury, on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 September 2017. This is the initial hearing and is likely to be part of a longer process.