14/03/2005

Army urged to crack down on bullying

The armed forces have been criticised over the way they handle cases of bullying in an MPs report.

The report by the Commons Defence Select Committee accused the army of failing to "grasp the nettle of duty of care" to its recruits.

The report, which followed a year-long inquiry, recommended that an independent military commission should be established to handle complaints relating to bullying and harassment.

The Committee suggested that many incidents of bullying in the army went unreported and blamed a culture within the armed forces, which marked victims of bullying as "weak".

The inquiry was established following the shooting deaths of four young recruits at the Deepcut army barracks in Surrey between 1995 and 2002. The families of the recruits – Sean Benton, James Collinson, Geoff Gray and Cheryl James, who were all aged between 17 and 20 – have been campaigning for a public inquiry into their deaths.

However, the Commons Defence Select Committee did not call for an inquiry into the deaths, although the report said that a new independent commission would have the power to investigate cases such as those which occurred at Deepcut.

The Committee also recommended that the Ministry of Defence should consider raising the minimum age for army recruits from 16 to 18. It also recommended that trainees should be placed in pairs for guard duty and that under-eighteens should not be allowed to be on armed guard duty.

The report also found that some recruits were "reluctant" to discuss any problems with the chain of command and suggested that counsellors should be available at training facilities to provide support.

The MPs report said that the army had been "active" in making improvements to both the training and care regimes during the 1995-2002 period, but stressed that more needed to be done. The report concluded: "The Army has failed to recognise that it is not sufficient simply to put structures in place. What matters is that they work."

Paul Keetch, Liberal Democrat Shadow Defence Secretary, welcomed the Committee's recommendation of an independent military complaints commission to handle bullying and harassment. However, Mr Keetch added: "It is unfortunate that the Committee has not come out in favour of a full independent inquiry into the events at Deepcut."

Mr Keetch also said that raising the age of recruitment to 18 would not deal with the issues of bullying and harassment "as they can occur at any age".

(KMcA/SP)

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