Army major 'pestered woman soldier into affair'

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The Independent Online

A string of sexual liaisons among members of the Army was exposed in a tribunal yesterday when a warrant officer suffering from depression claimed she was "pestered" into an affair with a major.

Angela McConnell, 41, a warrant officer from Wareham, Dorset, claimed she was unable to refuse the persistently amorous advances of her superior, a member of the King's Royal Hussars.

While Mrs McConnell succumbed to the affair to avoid jeopardising her career prospects, she claimed she was one of three of the cavalry major's military mistresses.

Mrs McConnell, who is married with two children, also lifted the lid on a climate of intense sexual intrigue in the Army after admitting to three further affairs, including one with a female squaddie.

Mrs McConnell has taken the Ministry of Defence to an employment tribunal in Southampton, Hampshire, alleging she was sexually harassed by the cavalry major, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

While sexual relationships between Army colleagues remain a disciplinary offence, Mrs McConnell alleges she was treated unfairly after the affair was exposed, because she was recommended for demotion but the major was able to retire on a full pension.

She also claims that she was pressured into having an affair to protect her career and subsequently felt threatened in a letter from the major's solicitor. The MoD denies all of the charges.

Yesterday, the tribunal heard how Mrs McConnell had learnt she was not the only lover of the major, after her colleague Capt Dee Holdom confided in her in February 2002 that she too slept with him days earlier.

"Because she told me and had shown me the text messages, we began swapping stories to see if the technique he had used with me was the same as her," said Mrs McConnell.

"Once we saw the similarities, we both felt stupid and used and she said she felt like she had been mentally raped."

Mrs McConnell claimed she succumbed to the requests of the major after she was bombarded by explicit phone and text messages and was fondled by him in his officers' mess.

It later came to light that the major had at least one further military mistress, bringing the total to three, the tribunal heard. Capt Holdom subsequently made a complaint about the major to her superior officers, branding him a "pest", according to Mrs McConnell.

While a number of officers, including Mrs McConnell and the major were interviewed, no formal disciplinary proceedings were conducted until two months later when her husband found out about the affair and informed the regiment's commanding officer.

The tribunal also heard how Mrs McConnell was "vulnerable" at the time and was treated with Prozac after suffering long-term bouts of depression during her time in the Army.

Feelings of low self-esteem were linked to the fact that she felt she was unable to please her father, an officer in the Navy, who believed she had married "beneath" herself to her firefighter husband, according to Col Mary Piper, an army psychiatrist.

Referring to Mrs McConnell's ability to cope with the demands of authority figures, Col Piper said: "I think she obviously had a great deal to lose by standing up and asserting herself within the workplace."

Mrs McConnell revealed she had sexual encounters with three other colleagues. They included her PT instructor Sheila Strickland. Others included Lt- Col Shaun Wilson, of the Royal Tank Regiment as well as a major of the Queen's Royal Hussars, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

The hearing continues.