Operational Effectiveness of the Armed Forces February 2022 Update

1. MoD support for Ukraine

Top marks for Secretary-of-State, Ben Wallace, taking such an affirmative and leading international stance in supporting Ukraine. There remains hope that this same commitment and vigour can be applied to setting up a truly independent complaints system for all veterans and serving members of the Armed Forces.

2. Number of Suicides Amongst Veterans and Serving Military Remains High

There are still no UK Government official and up-to-date figures, but from those collated by an independent authoritative source, it appears that the number of suicides of veterans and serving military remains above the national levels. The figures presented in the table below apply to England and Wales only, so the figures will be much higher when Scotland and Northern Ireland are taken into consideration. Whilst we note that, as from 31 March 2022, the UK government plans to provide annual statistics on UK regular armed forces suicide and open verdict deaths, these statistics will not include veterans.


3. Suicides in the news this month

In the past few weeks, there have been two suicides of serving military at Catterick Garrison, north Yorks, which remains a flagship soldier training site. A worried wife wrote a message that there is a “Suicide Pandemic in this camp. Clearly not enough being done or cries for help falling on deaf ears.” One suicide victim was only 18 years old, whilst the other victim, aged 33, lay dead inside his room for almost three weeks before being found. Eight Catterick-based soldiers have died suddenly or by suicide since 2018. Twice as many soldiers have died over that period than the four sudden deaths over seven years at the notorious Deepcut barracks in Surrey. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk- news/soldiers-fear-pandemic-suicide-army-26213755

Worryingly, seven of Sandhurst’s most senior officers investigated over the suicide of a female officer cadet will no longer face disciplinary charges. A colonel, two lieutenant colonels and four other
officers had been duty-bound to provide support to Olivia Perks, 21, who was known to be a suicide risk before her death in 2019. An Army investigation found the seven commanders failed to make allowances for Miss Perks’ vulnerability and that welfare provisions at Sandhurst were inadequate.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10483017/Seven-senior-officers-wont-face-charges- female-Army-cadets-suicide-Sandhurst.html

4. Sexual misconduct continues to be reported, but still dealt with internally

There continue to be reports of female military personnel being subject to sexual misconduct, and investigation being carried out “in house”. This continues to repudiate one of the most important provisions of the Women in Defence Parliamentary Report, also enshrined in the Lyons Report, namely that all cases of rape and sexual assault would be removed from the military courts and tried in the civil courts and the creation of a truly independent complaints system. Meanwhile, the US is leading the way in transformation as sexual harassment in the Armed Forces is now classified as a
crime. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10510917/Royal-Navy-officer-filmed-having-sex- female-officer-shared-Snapchat.html; https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10534865/Royal- Navy-officer-convicted-battery-dragging-chef-bar-refused-shots.html 5. Rape cases should be tried in specialist courts, says report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Crown Prosecution Inspectorate. Specialist courts dealing solely with rape offences are needed to reduce a large case backlog and reduce victims’ trauma, the Inspectorate’s report urges. Apparently, the Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, is taking advice on the feasibility of such courts. The report makes clear that victims of rape are being failed by a system beset by delays and poor communication. The MoD and military hierarchy could use this as an opportunity to overturn the lamentable record for dealing with rapes in the Armed Forces and support the introduction of such specialist courts to try any cases involving military personnel. Moreover, it would introduce one of the most important omissions of the Armed Forces Bill, set out in the Women in Defence Report and also enshrined in the Lyons Report, namely that all cases of rape and sexual assault should be removed from the military courts and tried in the civil courts. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-60496001

6. Office of Veterans Affairs (OVA) continues to be England-centric

Elements within the veterans community have raised concerns that all they hear about from the Minister and the OVA is around OP Courage. There are no equivalent campaigns around what is available for veterans in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and many struggle to find what is available for them. The OVA is not bound by devolution and should be signposting all schemes equally, as should the Minister. The OVA must not become the Office for English Veterans Affairs.

7. Veterans Advisory Board (VAB) discussions being controlled? The IDA team have been made aware that the minutes of the VAB of 21 November 2021 do not wholly reflect the discussion held. Copies of comprehensive notes taken by attendees have been seen and there was detailed discussion around Veterans UK Medical Advisors which has not been
reflected in the minutes. The wider veterans community is aware of this and the lack of a fully minuted meeting just adds to the suspicion of messaging being covered up. The IDA is seeking explanation, but so far is hitting a blank wall. https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/veterans- advisory-board

8. Inappropriate behaviour within the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme

The evidence of systemic mishandling of veterans claims is mounting with MPs and the media now building the case for an inquiry. In February, one of the Volunteer Regional Veterans’ Champions was forced to resign after an unsigned letter was received by VetsUk demanding he be removed for being too vocal in his championing of veterans.

9. ‘Operation Teamwork’ – Culture and Inclusion Training Day for Armed Forces held on 8 February

It is gratifying that this training day was held, for those not on operational duties or other essential duties (to be scheduled for them another time?). This day did not include the reserves either, but was designed to address concerns related to (but not limited to), sexual harassment, bullying and racism. However, for this training day to move beyond a tick box exercise, there need to be meaningful metrics promulgated and enforced. It is anticipated that the new CGS, Patrick Sanders, due to take over in June, will take a more vigorous ownership of this process. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/02/03/army-plans-diversity-training-day-soldiers-ukraine- tensions/?fbclid=IwAR17tVAmGhCZigyZoTEgno6Xh7LNWatb0Ctb3un3vC0cXFMvzzec1pERyF4

10. Bullying resulting in large pay out

As a result of a Catholic civilian worker, Ms Murray, leaving her job over alleged harassment by her Army boss, the taxpayer is set to pay out circa £560,000 in compensation. Whilst this is a legitimate compensation for the religious and sexual discrimination suffered by Ms Murray, it means that there is £560, 000 less to spend on operational effectiveness, with no indication that the military officer responsible has personally been fined or taken responsibility. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-60391505.amp 11. Massive waste of taxpayers’ money, but the real casualties are serving personnel and families
In what has been a long-running scandal, the MoD has revealed it plans to bring 38,000 properties
for military families, leased by Annington, back under government control, 25 years after a privatisation deal that has been criticised by the National Audit Office as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Annington has issued the government a two-week ultimatum to drop legal action to take over the 38,000 homes and instead accept a one-off refurbishment payment of £105m. The Annington offer would represent less than £2,800 per property, a figure that is thought to be unlikely to cover the costs of extensive repairs in some of the more dilapidated homes – and is lower than the MoD’s £140m spending on maintenance for a single year. It would also represent just over an eighth of what Annington paid out in a dividend to its parent company last year. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/feb/02/mod-given-ultimatum-to-drop-legal-action- against-firm-run-by-billionaire 12. On a positive note…
There is news of a training trial offering equitable training for women. Project ATHENA, a trial to optimise basic training for 45 junior women soldiers, is moving to phase 2 and has shown reduced injuries and greater retention. PJ INGRAM MBE
Co- Founder Independent Defence Authority 7 March 2022