Army provided direction but brought out a violent streak

Lance Corporal Mark Cooley
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The Independent Online

The former mining village of Throckley, two miles west of Newcastle, has seen far better days. The colliery closed 50 years ago and its remnants are dominated by six semi-derelict concrete tenement blocks facing the Tyne. It was from this landscape that Mark Cooley sought an escape by joining the Army nine years ago.

The former mining village of Throckley, two miles west of Newcastle, has seen far better days. The colliery closed 50 years ago and its remnants are dominated by six semi-derelict concrete tenement blocks facing the Tyne. It was from this landscape that Mark Cooley sought an escape by joining the Army nine years ago.

Habits of discipline and hard work were ingrained in him and his older brother, Michael, now 27, as they were brought up in a neat, three-bedroom home in the village. Their father, Graham, is said to have been a disciplinarian and, together with his wife, Joyce, he was determined they should rise above the surrounding deprivation.

Such aspirations are now in tatters. The images of Cooley, 25, shown to the court martial - one of him sitting in a forklift truck with a bound Iraqi suspended from the prongs - will have shocked his parents.

Graham Cooley, a security company engineer, earned good money installing systems for his neighbours. He also instilled some of his practical skills in young Mark and the pair became a regular fixture on their small driveway, fixing cars together.

Then the parents split and Mr Cooley moved to Fenton, in west Newcastle. Mark is said to have been devastated. He remained at home with his mother and brother and went to Walbottle Campus school, but he set his sights on the forces. He joined the army cadets at 13 and enlisted with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers at 18, two years after leaving school. He claims it was his "greatest achievement".

Contact with his mother seems scarce. "I am surprised by what has happened but I don't know anything about it," she said. "I haven't spoken to him about it, so I don't know."

His father, 49, who has remarried, has occasionally had a drink with him. "When Mark comes we go for a drink and have a father and son night out," he said. "But we don't talk about the Army. That's the understanding we have."

At first, army life provided direction. Cooley served in Northern Ireland, was stationed at his battalion's barracks in Celle, north of Hanover in Germany, and served in Kosovo before his posting to Iraq. There, he was recommended for a mention in dispatches after killing a sniper firing from a building at Iraqi civilians trying to flee. Cooley is an excellent marksman and was embarrassed to have missed the sniper with his first shot, killing him with a second. By breaking cover, he had placed himself in direct line of fire of the gunman.

But the Army also brought out a violent streak in Cooley. During his time in Northern Ireland, he ended up on an assault charge after a fight. In 1999 he was given a £500 military fine for common assault.

After returning from the Gulf he settled down with his partner, Leanne, and on 4 February their first child was born. However, he told the court of feeling unwell since his return and he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.