Female spy recounts 'catalogue of sexual harassment' in Army

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The Independent Online

Corporal Leah Mates, who served with the Det, a Northern Ireland surveillance unit, said she was left feeling suicidal because of her treatment by her superiors and the "anti-female prejudice that permeates the whole Army". She claims 43 individual incidents constituting sexual discrimination have made it impossible for her to continue in the Army and is seeking £686,000 in lost earnings.

Some of Cpl Mates' allegations relate to her time with the Det, a unit that prides itself on putting women in dangerous frontline roles, though the intense secrecy surrounding its operations means those will be outlined in private at an undisclosed location.

She served in that unit from January 2002 to February 2004, when its cover name was Joint Communications Unit Northern Ireland (JCUNI). The unit's personnel did not use real ranks and names and were identified only by pseudonyms.

In a 30-page claim against the Army, which she read to an employment tribunal in Southampton, Cpl Mates said: "I began to understand the Army is a male preserve and a woman who tries to establish herself does so at the peril of her health and happiness.

"There is no point in expecting the army authorities to do anything to help because they have the same prejudices against women, ironically even if they are themselves women."

Cpl Mates broke down in tears several times during her testimony, claiming her problems started within a month of joining the Army and taking a position within the 11 Signal Regiment in Blandford, Dorset.

Male comrades told sexist jokes and deliberately marched too fast, something she said was a ploy to make life difficult for her as a female recruit.

The bulk of her complaints in her statement relate to her time in the Signal Regiment of the Army's 3rd Division which she joined in April 1997.

Because she did not "sleep around", questions were asked about her sexuality, she said. "At that time, being gay caused you to be kicked out of the Army."

In 1999, her problems allegedly became more acute when she was sent to Kosovo, shared a tent with nine men and was forced to witness sexual obscenities. Under questioning from an MoD solicitor, Martin Chamberlain, Cpl Mates told of an incident when her detachment commander, Corporal Stephen Milligan, deliberately masturbated in her presence. She said: "I was frightened of Milligan. I thought he was capable of violence. He was large and a bully. He was the biggest and oldest guy and had the most service. I thought if he was angry enough he could be very violent."

The hearing continues today.