Army's false charges 'ruined my life'

Officer sues over a tide of allegations, writes Jonathon Carr- Brown
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A BRITISH army captain with a distinguished record in Bosnia and Northern Ireland is to sue the Royal Military Police for ruining his career after being falsely accused of spying, possessing weapons, pot- smoking, dishonesty and homosexuality.

Following a full investigation, Captain Stephen Almsteier was exonerated on all charges. Nevertheless he was discharged from his regiment, the Green Howards. But now the 37-year-old soldier spends his time at home in Doncaster, receiving treatment for chronic depression, deeply in debt and unable to understand why the Army that he loved is treating him so badly.

He is pinning his hopes on Martin Bell, the war correspondent turned MP, who has agreed to take up his case. Bell is convinced Almsteier is an "honourable soldier" who has been treated in a disgraceful manner. Although he was cleared on all counts, the MoD has refused to offer him any explanation as to his treatment, let alone offer him any kind of apology.

When the investigation started in November 1996, Capt Almsteier had been recommended by his commanding officer for promotion to the rank of major, asked to volunteer for a second tour of duty in Bosnia and tipped as a future commanding officer in the Territorial Army. Throughout the 12- month investigation and the year it took the Army to inform Capt Almsteier it had backdated his discharge to November 1997, he was unpaid but still under military command.

Three years later he is still fighting for justice. Capt Almsteier said: "I was told to go home and await a court martial. The court martial never came but I never got my job back. Natural justice demands that the Army either charges me with something, gives me back my job or tells me the real reason for sacking me."

The Orwellian events began in November 1996 when Capt Almsteier returned to his regimental headquarters at Imphal Barracks, York, from Bosnia to extend his regular army commission and discuss promotion.

Instead he was met by three military policemen and interrogated for five hours. The most serious allegation was the suggestion that he had passed confidential British military information to the Bosnian Muslims. It was true he had given information on the location of Muslim firing ranges to the manager of a Bosnian munitions factory, but only because he was acting under orders to do so from a very senior officer.

Capt Almsteier was accused of owning "gay paraphernalia" and directly asked if he was gay. Almsteier's girlfriend, Caroline Radford, of York, said: "I can assure the Army he is not gay."

The "paraphernalia", which had been taken during a raid on Almsteier's flat in Bosnia as he flew home, consisted of an ethnic-style pencil case on which a Staff Sergeant had scrawled: "Keep out - gay bag". The pot- smoking allegation was based on a photograph which showed Capt Almsteier demonstrating how to make cigarettes out of wild tobacco leaves during a jungle training course in Kenya.

Almsteier was accused of "dishonestly" using his liaison officer's allowance in Bosnia to buy alcohol. He pointed out he had a direct order from Lt Gen Jackson to "grease palms" with bottles of whisky where and whenever necessary.

An AK47 assault rifle found in his Bosnian flat turned out to be a gift from the local Muslim commander which he had broken no rules in accepting. Three weapons he was pictured holding with Brigadier Richard Dannatt, now in charge of British troops in Kosovo, were presents from the Bosnian Muslim commander of Travnik and are now in the regimental museum.

Capt Almsteier worked hard for 15 years to make a career as a full-time officer in the Territorial Army. As a military intelligence and security officer he was a trusted member of the Green Howards and served in the Falklands, Belize and Kenya.

In 1994 he took a short service commission and served as an operations officer in East Tyrone, Northern Ireland. In November 1995 he was deploy- ed to Bosnia and posted to Travnik, an area of tension where Croats, Muslims and Serbs had all fought during the civil war. He spent 10 months alone in Travnik living in a flat that had been a snipers' nest and was still littered with ammunition cases when he arrived.

Almsteier's lawyer Stephen Barker, of Barker Gillette, is preparing a case against the RMP for false arrest, false imprisonment, damage to property and trespass. He hopes to prove the arrest and subsequent investigation, not his age, was what led to Almsteier's discharge.

An MoD spokesman said Capt Almsteier was discharged because he did not gain the rank of major by the age of 35. He stressed that being recommended for promotion is not the same as being promoted.