Teen troops `degraded' by NCOs

TEENAGE SOLDIERS were subjected to a "bullying" and "degrading" regime by instructors, which included a mock execution, being ordered to simulate sex acts and forced to eat mud and soap, a court martial was told yesterday.

The Army apprentices were kicked, shot at with pellets and told to eat cake doctored with tabasco sauce and curry powder, said the prosecution.

A sergeant and four corporals, responsible for ensuring the youngsters' welfare as well as their training, face 17 charges between them.

The court martial, in Aldershot, Hampshire, was told a soldier had to perform locker- cleaning with a pubic hair on his tongue, after the hair was found on soap during an inspection.

Another was ordered to take a cold bath and had scouring powder poured over him; a third had a plastic straw pushed up his nose until blood poured from his nostrils.

The apprentices were at the Army Training College in Winchester, Hampshire, from September 1996, when they were all aged 18 or under.

Major Justin McClelland, for the prosecution, said the instructors overstepped the mark and engaged in bullying. He added: "The behaviour was not of a violent and vicious type but of a degrading and humiliating type, with the instructors mis-using their position."

The court martial panel also heard how one recruit was forced to eat mud from an instructor's football boots, and a young soldier was ordered to wipe brown camouflage cream from the backside of one NCO during a lecture on hygiene.

Sergeant Karl Dakin and Corporals Brian Gildea, Mark Hey, Kevin Hosford and Trevor Gray deny the charges, brought under the Army Act. Major McClelland said that during an exercise, instructors staged a mock execution of the trainees, using weapons with blank rounds. The recruits were lined up and the instructors carried out the "execution". Tthe instructors stood so close the muzzle-blasts "scorched" the soldiers' helmets.

Trooper Craig Reast, one of 10 cadets who said they suffered at the hands of their instructors, said he had been instructed to clean his locker with a pubic hair placed on his tongue.

"On one inspection Corporal Hey looked at the soap and it had a hair on it. He asked me to open my mouth then he told my to put the hair in. I did it because he was an NCO," he said. "It was quite disgusting. It made me feel sick."

Trooper David Bull, now 20 years old, said he saw the same corporal beating up one of his comrades for "being an idiot".

The recruit was subjected to a "20 to 30-second treat", beingpunched in the body with "quite a bit of force", because he had pointed his rifle at the NCO and pulled the trigger.

The court martial was also told the young cadets had no complaints about their commanding officers, and many of the incidents were conducted with "laughter and fun", even the mock execution.

During cross-examination, Trooper Martin Godfrey, who was forced into the cold bath, agreed he had not felt either humiliated or demeaned by Corporal Hey.

The defence asked: "Now you have joined a regiment, are you glad they helped you in the way they did?" Trooper Godfrey replied: "Very much so." The court martial continues.