Major in class row set to escape court martial

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The Independent Online
The Army yesterday refused to rule out a court martial for a major after he published a radical pamphlet accusing the force of perpetuating an outdated class system and criticising its rank structure.

But Army sources said yesterday that to court martial Major Eric Joyce (right) for speaking out would be seized on by the media, and therefore a prosecution was unlikely. Furthermore, many people in the Army privately agree with what Major Joyce has been saying. With a strategic defence review and the new government's policy of unprecedented openness on defence matters in the headlines, the Joyce case could become a political hot potato on the lines of the Dreyfus affair in France 100 years ago.

On Tuesday, the military police visited Major Joyce at his office at the Army Training and Recruitment Agency at Upavon, Wiltshire. They will prepare a report to be submitted to his commanding officer.

"We're not prepared to discuss his allegations," an Army spokesman said yesterday. "It's not an automatic court martial ... we are keeping all options open".

Major Joyce's Fabian Society pamphlet, Arms and the Man - Renewing the Armed Services, published on Monday, recommended independent representation for service personnel, action on racial inequality, the end of the current recruiting divide between officers and other ranks and an end to the forces' ban on gays.

Most controversial was Major Joyce's allegation that half the Army's officers - and all the senior ones - were from among the 7 percent of the population who went to private schools. A very small number of soldiers are selected for officer training, but, Major joyce points out, the age limit is 21, while direct entry officers (80 percent of whom are graduates) are accepted up to the age of 25. With large numbers of sergeants and sergeant majors now taking degrees, the logic behind this distinction has now broken down.

Christopher Bellamy