Bullying claim courts martial get under way
The court martial of four military training instructors accused of bullying and harassment at the UK’s biggest Army base is due to begin in Northern Ireland today.
Opening submissions from Crown prosecution lawyers are expected to be heard by the court at RAF Aldergrove this afternoon. However evidence is unlikely to be heard until next week.
The trial is expected to last for at least two weeks.
The instructors are facing a total of 19 charges in the military trial relating to complaints from seven recruits who underwent basic training at Catterick garrison between October 2007 and February 2008.
Colour Serjeant Michael Albert Hetherington, Corporal Henry Edward Sanday, Cpl Stuart John Pagett and Lance Corporal Christopher Paul Jakeman are currently based in Northern Ireland with The Rifles.
Recruits complained of being “battered”, punched, kicked and urinated on by training staff.
The accused could face dismissal from the Army if found guilty.
A pre-trial hearing in Aldergrove yesterday was told that a number of the prosecution witnesses were currently serving in Afghanistan while a number of soldiers being called by the defence are due to be deployed to Helmand early next month.
The court was also told that one witness “worried” about giving evidence has requested to be screened.
Assistant Advocate General Paul Camp, presiding over the trial, agreed to the screen but said the soldier’s name would be given to the court.
“I have no issue with screens for witnesses giving evidence. But we have not reached the stage in the UK where we have unidentified people pointing the finger from behind screens. They may have that in some jurisdictions but we have not reached that stage in English law,” he said.
Evidence of abuse emerged in the BBC documentary Undercover Soldier, in which a reporter posed as a trainee infantryman at Catterick.
He secretly filmed recruits during a 26-week basic training course which prepares soldiers for combat.
Defence sources said at the time three officers had been suspended at Catterick before they were made aware of the television investigation. Another two were suspended after they received the report from Russell Sharp, who had spent six months undercover at Catterick.
The BBC investigation was launched after the death of Private Gavin Williams. The 22-year-old Royal Welsh Regiment soldier died from heatstroke during a “beasting” or punishment session.
The Government has pledged to crack down on bullying in the Army following the deaths of four recruits at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey between 1995 and 2002.