On Mount Longdon: Parachute Regiment came back from the Falklands with their reputation for bravery reinforced. But two years ago, they were accused of atrocities by one of their own. Now others are speaking out

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TODAY, the photograph is used by the army as a classic illustration of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress. It shows a staring, disoriented young British soldier, his paratrooper's helmet awry, his gaze unfocused, standing on the summit of Mount Longdon in the Falkland Islands. The soldier in the photograph is Corporal Vincent Bramley, once of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, and at the moment of the photograph he had been in combat for more than 14 hours.

More than a decade later, Vincent Bramley is still fighting the battle of Mount Longdon, but this time he is fighting it alone. The 3rd Battalion is presently the object of a war-crimes inquiry and a murder hunt, and for this state of affairs, his fellow-Paras hold Bramley largely responsible.

Twenty-three soldiers from 3 Para died in the Falklands; 47 were wounded. Bramley, a machine-gunner, survived, but on his return to Britain suffered persistent post-traumatic nightmares and claustrophobia. As a therapeutic exercise, he was persuaded by his father to write an account of the campaign. In 1991 this account was published as Excursion to Hell. The book, intended by Bramley to represent a personal laying to rest of the war and of his dead colleagues, enjoyed a certain initial commercial success, and a copy was displayed at the Parachute Regiment's museum at Aldershot.

Bramley's account of the battle for Longdon, however, differs considerably from official versions. He describes how, after the mountain was won, wounded and captured Argentines were arbritarily bayoneted and shot. He suggests that some of the dead were mutilated, their ears cut off as trophies, and finally that among those executed by paratroopers were US mercenaries in the pay of Argentina.

As a result of these claims, Bramley's book was serialised in Today. The story was avidly pursued by the rest of the British press, quality and tabloid alike. Few of their stories, however, amounted to more than restatements of the two principal anecdotes in Excursion to Hell (the first of these describes the apparent shooting of a prisoner the day after the battle; the second refers to a conversation in which a soldier describes to Bramley how, during the battle, he had been ordered to kill prisoners claiming to be American mercenaries).

In the wake of press stories, MPs demanded an inquiry, and in August 1992 Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, asked Scotland Yard to investigate the claims made in Bramley's book. In the subsequent investigation, more than 130 serving and former paratroopers have been questioned by police, some of them several times and for many hours, and for the first time in history there exists the possibility that British soldiers could stand trial for war crimes.

Few hard facts have, however, emerged. Serving soldiers have been ordered by the Ministry of Defence not to speak to the press; Bramley has expressed nothing beyond formal regret that his former regiment should be the object of an investigation, and his colleagues, most of whom have now left the army, have maintained a steadfast silence.

Recently, doubt has been cast on Bramley's own probity. After the Falklands War he transferred from the Parachute Regiment to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps; and while serving with that regiment was convicted of possession of pyrotechnics and sentenced to three years' imprisonment (in the course of which he wrote Excursion to Hell). On the basis of this conviction and of a 20-year-old conviction for causing actual bodily harm, Bramley's account of events was held by much of the tabloid press to be unreliable, and 'written in the blood of his comrades'.

It is now two years since the publication of Excursion to Hell. Questions have been asked in the House, standard denials issued, and the book removed from display in the Airborne Forces Museum. Despite the many yards of column-inches dedicated to the question of whether or not British soldiers committed war crimes, Bramley's book has so far remained their only primary (and non-Argentine) source. For the first time, however, the events described by Bramley have been confirmed by other paratroopers. Several are still serving, and for obvious reasons have not wished to be quoted, but others, angered by what they see as an official conspiracy to discredit a former comrade-in-arms, have spoken for the first time. Their words confirm Bramley's, and paint a darker picture of the battle and its aftermath than any that has so far emerged.

VINCENT BRAMLEY is an affable, broad-built man with a closely controlled military moustache. Behind the eyes, however, resides a certain tired apprehension. He has been pursued for over a year by the press, he believes his telephone to be bugged, and he has been physically threatened. He continues, nevertheless, to live in his own, and his former regiment's home town of Aldershot. 'Sooner or later they'd find me,' he explains, 'and then it would all begin again.'

Aldershot is around 30 miles south-west of London. 'Home of the British Army' reads the sign, and indications that this is a garrison town, and in particular a Parachute Regiment town, are everywhere. There are military bookshops - Excursion to Hell has been the No 1 bestseller in Campaign Books since its release - there are military outfitters, and there are military pubs with such names as The Trafalgar, The Pegasus and The Airborne Inn.

Despite his vehement distrust of the press ('They've bloody crucified me and my family') Bramley has finally agreed to break his silence, and we meet at his semi-detached house. As he talks, the 36-year-old ex-soldier works his way - with a swiftness and despatch indicative of long non-commissioned service - through a large pile of household ironing.

'I was an aggressive youth,' he begins, 'a civilian bad-boy. Football hooliganism was my outlet. At that time the Military Police patrolled the town. And on Friday nights the civvies and the army would fight.' At the age of 16, convicted of causing actual bodily harm after fighting with soldiers, Bramley was sentenced to a period of detention.

'I liked it. I enjoyed the short haircuts and the fitness and the military discipline. And on my release I walked straight up Hospital Hill to the Army recruiting office and asked to join the Paras.' At the time, as he now admits, Bramley had no real idea of what he was getting himself into.

The Parachute Regiment - also known as 'The Maroon Machine' after the red beret worn by its members - is an elite, hermetic and intensely competitive corps. Its role as a front-line assault unit is reflected in a long and arduous selection process which eliminates all but the most dedicated and aggressive. Bramley, somewhat to his surprise, was accepted into the regiment, and found himself in a world of complex and often violent ritual. Among the 'Toms' (junior-ranking paratroopers), he discovered, an unofficial 'airborne code' demanded that, whenever possible, the regiment's reputation for hardness and extreme behaviour should be confirmed. 'Crap-hats' (soldiers from other regiments who do not wear the red beret) were to be despised, and confrontation with them sought.

The young recruits were driven hard.

'The regiment was the Army,' says Bramley. 'That was drilled into us. If an outsider

gave you trouble, you fought. And you fought him together.'

'Remember where your average Para comes from,' one ex-corporal explains to me later. 'In my section there was me - and I'd been a foster-child - and 12 men under me. Well, I knew them all well, and there wasn't a single one of them who came from a normal family, who hadn't been in council care, in foster-homes and the rest of it. Everyone thought Vince (Bramley) was a real oddity,

because he had a Mum and Dad. We'd all grown up fighting, and the Para Reg, with its rules and regulations and discipline, became our family.'

The life suited Bramley, however, and gave him a sense of exclusiveness and belonging. 'You have to imagine a whole platoon of us on a night out,' he explains, 'all 20 of us dressed exactly the same in tight jeans, desert boots laced with para-cord, maroon sweat-tops and flight jackets, marching down the road . . .'

With Bramley, I drive across Aldershot to The Royal Military, a Regiment pub. It is a dark, beery barn of a place, the walls hung with photographs of paratroopers, regimental flags and discarded women's underwear. The pub comprises a large bar and a black-painted area known as 'the Ratpit', and is usually the final port of call in any crawl of the Para bars. This afternoon it is closed, but by 10:45 on a Friday or Saturday night there will be two or three hundred soldiers in.

'All pissed as farts, of course]' laughs Tom Simpson, the proprietor, to whom Bramley introduces me. 'The guys'll scrap, but it doesn't usually last longer than 50 or 60 seconds. Then I wade in.' Simpson is himself a former paratrooper and was Bramley's first platoon sergeant ('A right hard bastard he was too,' says Bramley, approvingly).

We are sitting in an area of the bar known as 'Trapping Corner', where paratroopers traditionally attempt to charm members of the Women's Royal Army Corps. Bramley looks around with some nostalgia. He has not visited this, or any other regimental pub, since the beginning of the inquiry. Tom Simpson, ever the Para, thinks he should face out those who threaten him. 'If anyone brought the regiment into disrepute, it's those who did what they did. Not you who wrote about it. If anyone gives you a hard time, well . . .'

DRUNKENNESS and brawling are inevitable among troops maintained at a high level of combat-readiness but deprived of a 'real' enemy. By the beginning of the 1980s, however, the frustration and boredom of peacetime had given rise to some decidedly bizarre manifestations in the airborne ranks. An inner circle of 'believers' had come into being, committed to an aggressive, Bushido-like cult of violence and death, which they perceived as representative of the 'true' spirit of the Parachute Regiment.

'Killing?' one former paratrooper told me. 'You long for the opportunity. You wait your life for the chance to slot someone.'

'There was always someone dropping guys on a regular basis,' Bramley remembers, 'and you'd know: he's one of them. Off his head.'

These soldiers, mostly of junior rank, referred to themselves as 'the Green-Eyed Boys', a title chosen to distinguish them from their despised 'blue-eyed', or more conventionally behaved, colleagues. The Green Eyes' ideological references were specific - key texts included Who's Who in Nazi Germany and Hitler's Teutonic Knights - while their historical role-models were drawn from conflicts as disparate as the Normandy campaign and the Zulu and Vietnam wars. Distinctions were fine-edged, however. To be fully green-eyed it was necessary to be in one of the battalion's rifle or patrol companies.

Stewart 'Scouse' McLaughlin, a Liverpudlian corporal, was an archetypal Green Eye. A brilliant and unconventional tactical soldier, apparently impervious to pain or exhaustion, he was both admired and feared by his men. A former member of his section remembers McLaughlin slaughtering a cow with a commando knife at the roadside outside Aldershot, and driving the dying animal home in the blood-filled boot of his BMW. Another occasion, when McLaughlin cut an arm open in the course of a field exercise, provided an opportunity for the section to practise wound-suturing on him. '. . . And if it wasn't neat,' remembers the ex-squaddie, 'he'd fucking have you do it again.'

Bramley was in Support Company, and thus more of an observer than a participant in extreme Green-Eyed practices. He had his moments, nevertheless, and describes hard- drinking, brawling evenings, interspersed with elaborate rituals involving the consumption of vomit, urine and excrement. Such evenings would usually end with heart-felt renditions of 'Lorelei' ('Tomorrow Belongs to Me'), 'The Fallschirmjager Song', and 'When We March on England'. The choice of songs indicates less that the Green Eyes were Nazis than that they took their military role-models where they found them. It was the fatalism, the death-love, with which they identified.

The intention in this extreme behaviour, as both Bramley and other ex-Paras have confirmed, was to be unhesitatingly and publicly offensive, to emphasise a violent separateness from the rest of the army and from a 'mediocre' society. To confirm, in short, that the Green-Eyed boys wanted war.

The NCOS, many of whom had seen action in several theatres of war, were varyingly indulgent spectators of this attitudinising. Easy enough, they reasoned, for 18-year-old privates to talk of 'the purity of the bayonet-charge' from the safety of an Aldershot saloon-bar.

Then the impossible happened. Argentina invaded the Falklands, 3 Para crossed the Atlantic by P & O liner, and at midnight on 11 June 1982, A and B Rifle Companies were waiting at their start lines beneath a freezing mountain.

THREE Para's attack on Mount Longdon was an exceptionally risky undertaking. The battalion had marched across difficult country for most of the 90 miles from Port San Carlos, their disembarkation point, in adverse weather conditions. Few of the men, in the month leading up to the attack, had washed or changed their clothes. Many had carried more than 100lbs (45kg) of ammunition and equipment through the freezing bogs of East Falkland, and long before the march was completed many, including Bramley, had trench foot. There were, furthermore, no troops in reserve, and no more on their way from Britain.

It was militarily essential, however, that the mountains surrounding the occupied capital of Port Stanley be taken. Three Para, as a spearhead element of 3 Commando Brigade, were assigned Longdon, the bleakest and most prominent of these. The mountain was held by the (conscript) Argentine 7th Infantry Regiment and a number of experienced marine, engineer and special forces units. Defensive positions were, for the most part, secure and well-sited, their approaches covered by mortar emplacements and snipers with state-of-the-art night-sights. The strength of the Argentines was estimated at 800 men; the odds stood at approximately 4-1 against the British.

Below the mountain, 3 Para prepared for close-quarter battle. 'We crossed the Murrell River one by one over a bridge of ladders,' recalls Pvt Dominic Gray of B (Rifle) Company. 'The ladders had labels on, I remember, reading 'Texas Homecare'. It was very quiet. In the dark we passed some lads from support and patrol companies; several of them were in tears because it was the rifle companies that were going in first. One lad from Patrol Company, Gary Boyd-Smith, kissed me on the cheek. 'Mind how you go, Dom,' he said. He was crying.' To one flank, with Support Company, Bramley readied his machine-gun.

'That was the moment, I think, that I finally realised we were at war. I felt I had to prove to my parents that I wasn't a failure, a coward. They'd had to put up with so much. Mainly, though, I was worried sick about Dominic and the B Company lads going in first. I was almost in tears if you really want to know, because I thought they were going to get killed. And I felt so helpless.' 'We could see the dark bulk of the mountain above us,' continues Gray. 'We were waiting in line, ready to go in. Then (Sergeant-Major) Johnny Weeks gave the order: 'B Company . . . Fix bayonets]' All along the line you heard this long scrape as blades were pulled from scabbards, and the double K-e-r-Clunkkk as we fixed them. I'll never, ever forget that sound. Up on the mountain in their bunkers and at their machine-gun posts the Argies heard it too. And they knew what it meant.'

First B and then A Company assaulted the icy mountain head-on. Support Company, to which Bramley was attached, brought machine-gun, mortar and missile fire to bear on the Argentine positions. The Argentines responded in kind. The battle that ensued, much of it hand-to-hand, was the bloodiest of the campaign.

It was still dark and in the early stages of the battle when the first of the contentious incidents identified by Bramley allegedly occurred. The following passage from Excursion to Hell describes Bramley's encounter with an unnamed colleague from B Company. The conversation takes place after the war, in Aldershot, at the Parachute Regiment's depot:

' 'Vince,' he said, 'X and I were pinned behind a small rock. A sniper had us in his sights and was shooting at anything that moved. X moved to the side and saw a group of Argies whispering together not three metres away. X beckoned me to look at them. Both of us saw them suddenly crawl towards us. They actually crawled right into our laps. I just pointed my SLR (self-loading rifle) at the head of one of them as he came past. I blew his brains out there and then. The three others screamed for 'no shooting'. and I dragged them into our position, then some of the company did an assault through our position that left us in a more secure position. X wanted to waste the men, now prisoners, and move on. They just looked at us in complete silence. A platoon sergeant came, half crawling, up to us. We explained the situation. He looked at the prisoners. One spoke perfect English, with an American accent. We were really surprised, Vince, I can tell you. We questioned them for some minutes. All spoke perfect English, praising our soldiering. The sergeant fucked off and came back after ten minutes or so. He took X aside, while I guarded the prisoners. X came back to me and said, 'Get them over this ridge quickly.' We pushed them the 15 metres, out of view, then suddenly X let rip, shooting them all dead. I helped to make sure they were completely dead, if you know what I mean.'

'I said to him, 'So what, why the big scene?'

' 'Vince, look mate, they were Yanks. Orders came from above to waste them, mate.'

' 'How did you know they were Yanks? Speaking with that accent may only mean they were schooled there?'

' 'They told us, Vince. That was their mistake . . .' '

Bramley has never identified X, or the speaker. One paratrooper who was present at the incident, however, agreed - with deep reservations - to speak to me.

'I saw an American passport, and I heard and spoke to those Americans. They didn't speak Argie-type American, but with a Bronx accent. Quite different. I saw them by the light of the shemoolies (flares) and the heavy artillery, millions of candlepower, but they had cam-cream (camouflage cream) on their faces. They all smelt of their burners, a kind of stench of damp wood and ash.'

The story that American mercenaries fought for the Argentines is a persistent one. A Special Air Service soldier told me that an American team had been captured by 2 Para at Goose Green and 'hot-sauced' (made to lie under groundsheets beneath which phosphorus grenades were then ignited). There is no official record, however, of the fate of any such soldiers. The US State Department denies any knowledge of Americans fighting or dying in the Falklands, as does the Argentine embassy in Washington. Many Argentine soldiers, and most particularly those of the 601 Special Forces Unit known to have been operating on Longdon, could have been educated in America. They may even have held US passports.

The conviction of many of the Paras, however, is that the presence of US mercenaries in the Falklands was covered up to prevent a souring of the 'special relationship' between President Ronald Reagan and the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The paratrooper who encountered the 'mercenaries' ('My life's regret is that I used the American passport to wipe my arse, and then threw it away'), described to me the destruction of the corpses.

'HE (high explosive) grenades were placed in their mouths, and white phosphorus grenades in their chest cavities. The order was to completely destroy every single trace of the bodies, every scrap of evidence that they'd ever existed. And the order came from the top.'

THE PARACHUTE Regiment was founded in 1942 at the command of Winston Churchill, who, impressed by the performance of the Fallschirmjager, the German airborne assault troops of the 1940 Blitzkrieg, had determined to create a comparable arm for the British Army. In the years since the Second World War, the regiment has seen action in a series of post-colonial 'bush-fire' engagements (in Aden, Borneo, Oman, Kenya, Cyprus, Jordan and the Falklands) and has carried out regular tours of Northern Ireland. The regiment's

deployment in the latter province, however, has proved controversial since on 30 January 1972, 'Bloody Sunday', soldiers of the 1st Battalion shot dead

13 civilians during the course of an illegal protest march in Londonderry.

The incident has never been satisfactorily resolved, and until the Falklands War the Green Eyes of 1 Para taunted the other battalions with the words: 'We shot one, we shot two, we shot 13 more than you . . .'

In 1985, in a bizarre incident which has never been reported, a group of paras is said to have 'mutinied' in Belize. Aggrieved by harsh barrack-room discipline and subjected to what they considered to be pointless exercises - ' . . . Bulling jungle boots, section attacks in full NBC (nuclear protective) gear in the middle of the night . . . What were they expecting, a tank attack from Guatemala?' one of those present remembers - this group of non-commissioned officers disarmed and stripped their officers and disappeared into the jungle. Several days later they gave themselves up. 'We were put on CO's orders,' says the soldier, 'but the matter was binned.'

Even the regiment's detractors admit that, in full contact with an enemy, the 'Toms' are unrivalled for ferocity and endurance. In the Falklands, following the battles of Goose Green and Mount Longdon, Colonel 'H' Jones of 2 Para and Sergeant Ian McKay of 3 Para won the only Victoria Crosses awarded for the campaign, both posthumously.

Of the two battles it is Goose Green, fought and won by the 2nd Battalion at a time when overall victory was by no means certain, which has remained in the British consciousness. The battle for Longdon, just one part of the 'push for Port Stanley' and followed immediately by the capitulation of the Argentines, was denied the close press attention applied to the earlier, daylight engagement.

For this reason, Bramley's account of events on Longdon was seen by the 3rd Battalion as a long-overdue correction of the imbalance. The 'Toms' of 3 Para felt, too, that the book represented the private soldier's as opposed to the officer's experience, and for the 18 months between the publication of the book and the beginning of the inquiry, Vincent Bramley was one of the most popular men in Aldershot.

BY 11 O'CLOCK on the morning of June 12 1982, Mount Longdon had been won by the British. Twenty-three paratroopers had been killed and 48 wounded. Bramley had survived unhurt, but Dominic Gray had been hit, shot through the head. Gray had remained on the mountain, blood freezing at the entry and exit wounds, face spattered with burning phosphorus, and had fought on for a further two hours until ordered to the Regimental Aid Post.

Stuart 'Scouse' McLaughlin, the hardest and wildest of the Green-Eyed Boys, was among the dead. Despite a grave back wound exposing both his spine and his lungs, he had refused to leave the battlefield and his men, and had continued to fight, finally to be killed by a direct hit from a mortar round. 'Scouse, I think, knew he was going to die on that mountain,' says Gray. 'You had that feeling with a lot of those guys . . .' Still under occasional shell-fire, Bramley and his Support Company colleagues inspected the close-quarter battle sites near the summit. Argentine wounded and dead lay everywhere; several with their ears severed. Several of the enemy were being beaten and bayoneted by paratroopers.

'I hadn't slept for between 24 and 30 hours,' remembers Bramley, 'but I was still . . . highly awake. I thought it was just a matter of fact, the bayonetings. 'If you're having difficulty with thick clothing,' I remember us being told in training, 'go through the eye.' But that feeling of death around you - you watch and shrug - there's another one gone. And the ears? I thought at the time the ears had been blown off by shrapnel.'

It is the suggestion that British troops not only killed their prisoners but mutilated the dead which has appalled public opinion in Britain. Such acts subvert any notion of the 'fair play' which is, even if somewhat hazily, assumed to govern the Army's dealings with its enemies. To date the press, with only Bramley's book to go on, have no more than implied that deliberate mutilations took place.

A former member of 3 Para, however, has confirmed their occurrence to me. 'The thing about taking ears,' he explained, 'is that you've killed your enemy one on one, man on man, and you take your trophy. It was never my thing particularly, but I remember one bloke, we'd overrun a bunker, and he bayoneted this Argy through the throat and as the guy fell back dead he grabbed him and sawed his ear off with the bayonet. 'Right' he said, 'I'll be having that,' and it went into his pouch. It was very much a personal thing, though.'

One particular Para who was killed in the battle, he continued, was felt by the men to have deserved a decoration for exceptional valour. Any such award, I was told, was vetoed when an officer discovered that the dead soldier's ammunition pouch was filled with ears and other Argentine body-parts.

On the summit of the mountain, according to Bramley, and in the daylight aftermath of the battle, a number of Argentine prisoners and wounded were executed by junior-ranking paratroopers. Oscar Carrizo, an Argentine survivor of a failed execution attempt, told the Independent earlier this year how he was stripped by paratroopers and then shot in the head. Eileen Vidal, a Falkland Islander, told me a soldier whom she met at the liberation of Port Stanley had described a similar incident to her: 'He said horrific things had happened . . . He had seen a Para make an Argentine dig a grave and then shoot him into it. One of his mates had apparently been killed.'

One murder, witnessed by Bramley and several officers, appears to have been particularly blatant. Bramley describes the scene to me.

'I was sitting with Captain Mason, Major Dennison and others. Below us and to one side, about 80 metres away, was a burial party. We heard a scream, 'Mama, Mama]', I heard a bang, and saw a man topple from the cliff. It wasn't really a cliff, really, just a rock ledge about three feet off the ground. Then everyone was running around, there were three or four on the burial party below the cliff, a few above. Dennison was up and gone, his eyes full of fury, he was over there immediately. I looked over, but Mason said to forget that, to go over the ridge and start looking for intelligence.'

An NCO was arrested by Dennison, and an accompanying report despatched to his superiors. The NCO was separated from his unit and returned to Britain, where he was posted to another battalion. He is still in the regiment, reportedly untroubled by the investigation.

Such treatment seems to stand in stark contrast to that meted out to Bramley when in 1986, having left the Parachute Regiment for the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, he was convicted of illegal possession of three 'Thunderflashes' (simulation grenades, used on military training exercises), a smoke-grenade, and a CS pellet. Although Bramley was in Germany at the time of the offence, the paraphernalia was linked to his signature at the RAOC depot. Bramley returned to Britain, was handed over to a civilian court and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Peter Cuxson, an ex-Para Foreign Legionnaire who was convicted with Bramley (and admits his own guilt), told me: 'I can absolutely confirm that Bramley didn't steal the above (pyrotechnics).'

'Vince Bramley was a military training instructor,' I was told by Major Richard Eccles, who in 1986 was second in command of Bramley's RAOC battalion. 'His job was to teach recruits, and the tools of his trade were CS and Thunderflashes. It is common practice for a good MTI to retain (such things) rather than hand them in; they have no conceivable criminal appplication. Vince Bramley is one of the most trustworthy instructors I have ever served with.' In Shepton Mallet High Security Prison, dishonourably discharged from the army, revisited by disturbing images of the battle, Bramley wrote Excursion to Hell.

To date, his description of the clifftop shooting remains the only first-hand account of the incident. After some hesitation, however, Bramley describes to me a meeting, in February this year, with Lieutenant-Colonel David Parker, the Regimental Colonel of the Parachute Regiment. 'Parker told me that Captain Mason had made an official written complaint to him in July 1992 about the shooting, and that in it he had named the NCO who had killed the prisoner.' This report, Bramley was told by another officer who had seen Mason's letter to Lieut-Col Parker, had gone via the Ministry of Defence to the Cabinet Office.

'I told Parker everyone in the regiment had known about it (the clifftop killing) for 10 years,' Bramley says. 'And that no one's bothered about it. I gave my word, though, that I would never mention his (the alleged killer's) name.'

Lieut-Col Parker confirmed to me both his conversation with Bramley and the existence of the Mason / Parker letter. 'The letter in question,' he explained, 'was passed to the police. Bramley, I may say, had no business whatsoever discussing this with you . . .' The existence of the letter was good news to Bramley, who is anxious that his book should not be seen by his former comrades as either untrue or the sole cause of the investigation. In fact, Bramley was told, Mason had made an earlier report of the incident to the Labour MP Tam Dalyell.

Dalyell had taken no immediate action, but in 1992 admitted:'Some five years ago I heard from someone in 3 Para roughly what had happened, but I did not pursue the matter because it was no part of my case to denigrate the British services. However, now that it has been given prominence, sleeping dogs can be allowed to lie no longer.' In January this year two detectives from Scotland Yard's International and Organised Crime Branch flew to the Falkland Islands to conduct preliminary investigations; in March they were followed by a further team including a forensic expert, a photographer, and a serving member of 3 Para who had fought at Mount Longdon.

Bramley was one of the first combatants to be questioned last autumn. He was told that a total of 21 charges could be brought on the basis of Excursion to Hell - including several of murder - and that he himself could be indicted. On the advice of his solicitor he declined to comment, although, as he now admits 'I really wanted to sit there and get on my knees and say: cover it up, cover it up, we don't need this. I don't need this, the British public don't need this, the Parachute Regiment certainly doesn't need this . . .'

At the regimental depot, suspicion and distrust now divide the older members of 3 Para. Those who were privates and junior NCOs 11 years ago now hold positions of considerable responsibility, with several on Special Forces or overseas 'consultancy' attachments. If implicated in atrocities or the covering-up of atrocities, they have much to lose.

Nobody is absolutely sure how much the police know. Among the non-commissioned ranks there is concern that certain officers, seeing themselves as more vulnerable to accusations, might have 'blubbed' their men to the police. Bramley himself is appalled by the inquiry. He never intended, he maintains, that his book should represent any kind of accusation against his fellow Paras. He bears no grudge against the army for his dishonourable discharge. He is proud to have been a Para. His best friends are all Paras or ex-Paras.

'It (the events after Mount Longdon) was just something that happened . . .' he says. 'The Geneva Convention is just a guideline. Phosphorus isn't allowed, for example, but we had phosphorus grenades. They were issued to us.' In common with many of his former colleagues, Bramley considers that the screaming aggression induced by close-quarter battle is incompatible with 'reasonable' behaviour.

'When the bayonet meets the bayonet,' he explains, 'it changes any individual . . . It's not the Joe Bloggs I know, throwing grenades into bunkers, his eyes are the size of a bulldog's bollocks, for God's sake. You're not all there. None of us was.' And the experience, he admits, changed him. 'When you see your mate lying there without his head, and he's shot, and he's dead . . . you're not green-eyed any more. You're blue-eyed. You know the score.'

The year 1982, the year Charles and Diana had their first child, and Margaret Thatcher embodied Britannia, now seems a very long time ago. The abiding public memory of the Falklands conflict is of a war fairly and bravely won against great numerical and logistical odds. It is a patriotic memory few wish to see disturbed. There has been another war since then, other deaths.

'Many people gave their lives, many more risked their lives in the Falklands War,' said Sir Nicholas Bonsor, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, in a recent statement. 'I think it is an insult to them to suggest that we committed war crimes. Therefore, unless there is very substantial evidence to suggest that it is true, I do not think this is a useful or proper way to use the resources available to us.'

This year, finally, an inquiry into the events on Mount Longdon has been initiated in Argentina. There, little appetite remains for uncovering the dirty truths of a war which Argentina both started and lost, especially as the present mood in that country is for rapprochement with Britain.

Here in Britain, the Scotland Yard inquiry continues. Neither the Ministry of Defence nor the Metropolitan Police are prepared to comment on the investigation, and serving Forces personnel have been ordered to remain silent.

Most of the men who took Longdon have now left the army. In uniform or out, however, green-eyed or blue, they look forward to an end to the questioning. To a man they are frustrated by the protective necessity to remain silent about a battle in which their friends died and which they feel has been consistently and undeservedly obscured.

In the Queens Hotel in Aldershot - one of the bars which Vincent Bromley no longer visits - it is closing time. A slightly overweight man in his thirties, dressed in a tattered maroon sweatshirt, jeans and desert boots laced with para-cord, leans back in his chair. Above him, on the wall, hangs an Argentine flag signed by soldiers of 3 Para.

'B Company]' he yells drunkenly and at no-one in particular, 'Fix bayonets]'

(Photographs omitted)

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