Back to top

Pressure grows on military leaders after summer of abuse revelations

UK troops in training

Pressure grows on military leaders after summer of abuse revelations

The summer of 2022 has seen a string of revelations of abuse and ill-treatment within the UK armed forces.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain’s leading pacifist group, is calling for immediate and urgent change so that the forces no longer have the power to police themselves and run their own criminal trials.

The PPU said that the armed forces are abusive institutions that should be held to account rather than put on a pedestal.

Recent reports have focused on the Red Arrows, an RAF display team who promote military recruitment and British arms sales, while also performing at predominantly civilian events.

Last week the Times uncovered evidence of bullying and sexual assault by members of the Red Arrows, with young female RAF recruits speaking of a "toxic" culture in which sexual harrassment is the norm. Senior officers were accused of having "swept complaints under the carpet".

Only two weeks earlier, an exclusive report in the i newspaper revealed the results of a government inquiry into the collapse of the trial of army instructors accused of abusing and ill-treating recruits aged 16 and 17.

The trial had collapsed in 2018 following the Military Police’s delay in investigating a series of reports of bullying and assault by instructors at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate. The Military Police blamed the delay in part on pressure from “more urgent enquiries”, despite 41 teenage recruits reporting abuse. At the time, critics such as the Peace Pledge Union asked what could be more urgent than investigating the abuse of 16-year-olds.

Earlier this month, the i newspaper revealed that a UK government inquiry has now found that the seriousness of the allegations was "underestimated from the outset" by the Military Police.

According to the inquiry, the recruits who reported the abuse were "vulnerable and clearly intimidated" but "no consideration was given to the ongoing safeguarding of junior soldiers after the initial allegations had been made”.

At the end of July, the Child Rights International Network and Vice magazine revealed that more than one in ten of the young women aged 16 or 17 who joined the British army in 2021 had reported being sexually assaulted within the army before the end of the year.

Those revelations came only days after BBC Panorama published considerable evidence that the SAS had deliberately killed unarmed civilians in Afghanistan.

Mark Carleton-Smith, who later became head of the British army, was accused of failing to pass crucial information to a murder investigation by Military Police. Panorama also published evidence that Military Police officers had been pressured into dropping inquiries.

The Peace Pledge Union has today reiterated calls for the armed forces to lose the ability to conduct their own criminal trials and maintain their own police forces. The PPU insisted that all people should be subject to the same law and the same criminal justice system.

The PPU said that both recruits and civilians are harmed when the armed forces are placed above the law and beyond scrutiny. The PPU has long criticised the everyday militarism that sees the armed forces idolised through events such as Armed Forces Day.

Although Boris Johnson has increased UK military spending by the highest percentage since the Korean War, Liz Truss has promised further increases to expenditure on the armed forces if she becomes Prime Minister next week.


Want to know more? Sign up to the Peace Pledge Union's monthly email update! (Scroll down to the end of the page to sign up).