Exposed: soldier at the centre of Army's shame

Four face jail after guilty verdicts in Iraqi prisoner abuse court martial
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The Independent Online

He was barely old enough to serve in military conflict, suffered learning difficulties and was recovering from the effects of an operation to remove metal plates from a broken jaw.

He was barely old enough to serve in military conflict, suffered learning difficulties and was recovering from the effects of an operation to remove metal plates from a broken jaw.

Yesterday, the British Army was being asked why Gary Bartlam, one of its youngest soldiers to serve in the Gulf, was placed in control of Iraqi prisoners, which left him free to contribute to the abuse which has left him and three fellow soldiers facing jail.

Bartlam, 20, chronicled every aspect of his short military career with photographs and was even sent on an Army photography course after his pictures of abuse were revealed. He claimed he took the photographs to show them to his mother. But his images of abuse, including sexual humiliation, displayed one of the most shameful episodes in the Army's history, for which he will serve 18 months in a youth detention centre.

Corporal Daniel Kenyon, 33, and Lance-Corporal Mark Cooley, 25, were found guilty yesterday by a court martial in Osnabruck, Germany, of mistreating captured looters at a supply camp in Basra in 2003. Lance-Corporal Darren Larkin, 30, was on trial with Kenyon and Cooley but changed his plea to admit assault. The three are to be sentenced tomorrow.

Judge Advocate Michael Hunter told Bartlam: "Anyone with a shred of human decency would be revolted by what is contained in those pictures. The actions of you and those responsible for these acts have undoubtedly tarnished the international reputation of the British Army and, to some extent, the British nation too, and it will no doubt hamper the efforts of those who are now risking their lives striving to achieve stability in the Gulf region, and it will probably be used by those who are working against such ends."

Bartlam's army career is over but he started out like any teenager who signs on. On a school-leaver's record card of May 2001 which detailed appearances in football, rugby and tennis teams and 100 per cent attendance, he wrote of his single hope: "I would like to join the Army, as a tank driver or join the Staffs (Regiment)."

Three months after he left Polesworth High School in north Warwickshire, he joined the Royal Fusiliers and became 25139703 Fusilier Gary Paul Bartlam. His father Paul, 46, a miner, saw the pit closures coming and converted the front room of the family's house at Dordon, near Tamworth, into Maggies, a convenience store. Five years later he took redundancy and helped his wife, Maggie, in the shop.

Gary, their eldest son, was a member of a leading European gymnastics display team - the Polesworth-based Kangaroos - he had been a school prefect and had no criminal record. His medical for the Army revealed damage to an elbow, caused by gymnastics, so his parents paid for a private operation to pin it. He began his training at the Whittington Barracks near Tamworth in late 2001 and passed out in April 2002 after a spell at Catterick Barracks, North Yorkshire, where he won an "endeavour" cup for most- improved soldier. He signed on for four years, was posted to Celle, in Germany, and trained in the Rockies. He photographed every place and experience. Gary parachuting; Gary in a 6ft hole he'd dug in the Rockies; Gary at Auschwitz on a training course: they are all in albums at home.

Then in January 2003, the day after Bartlam had returned to Celle after leave in Dordon celebrating his 18th birthday, he clashed with Lance-Corporal Adam Richardson and suffered the broken jaw. An operation meant he missed the invasion of Iraq. When he got there he tried to impress his mates. The new-boy Bartlam earned a reputation as "a bit of a nutter" and it was suggested he should undergo psychiatric counselling.

On leave in Dordon last year, Bartlam walked into the Max Spielman photographic shop in Tamworth, handed two rolls to an assistant and was under arrest by military police by nightfall.

He was sent on the military photography course and a tour in Kosovo. The Army says the course wass "unfortunate" in hindsight but "photographing people was a core skill". Mrs Bartlam says: "If [his photographs] were so wrong, why did they send him on a course."

Her husband is dismantling what remained of his son's future. "His Army salary was only £13,000 so we secured the mortgage and he paid us the £500 instalments," he said. "But he's lost his job now so that's it. All that ambition, gone to waste."