From factory floor to war hero to disgrace

Lance Corporal Darren Larkin
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Darren Larkin left for the Iraq war to become - briefly - a hero. Now, he is about to return home in disgrace.

Darren Larkin left for the Iraq war to become - briefly - a hero. Now, he is about to return home in disgrace.

The image of the soldier standing on top of a cowering Iraqi prisoner in a foetal position and lying in a pool of water, was among the most graphic of the pictures shown to the court martial.

But for a time, the second Gulf conflict had made a hero out of Larkin, a young man who failed to make much progress at school and had seemed destined for a life of mundane factory work in his home town, Oldham.

Like his co-accused Mark Cooley, he devoted his spare time to cars and bikes and, as a teenager, spent hours on his Raleigh Chopper bike with his friends from Counthill Secondary School.

Larkin, now 30, was known as "Daz" or "Pops" (after H E Bates' character Pa Larkin, from The Darling Buds of May). He was popular at school, which is near the bottom of education league tables, but he did not cover himself in glory. He left to become a sewing machinist, acquired a steady girlfriend, Vicky Clark, and kept up a good rapport with his parents.

He joined up at the age of 20 and the Army seemed to offer much more. He found himself posted to the Gulf where, to begin with, he had a good war. He rose to the rank of lance corporal and was considered for a mention in dispatches after an incident in Basra during the early stages of the conflict.

Comrades remember him discovering an enemy mortar base and opening fire, destroying the position. He and another soldier were put forward for a bravery award, but they were not selected. He also survived an attack on a personnel carrier in which he was travelling, soon after arriving in Basra early in 2003.

A short time after the latter incident he returned home to a hero's welcome. A party was thrown for him at his local pub, the Moss Inn in Oldham, and he was pictured enjoying himself at the event in the Oldham Chronicle, standing proudly with Ms Clark at his side.

The "Daz" who went off to war was known for driving flash cars - a Ford Escort RS Turbo and Audi TT. But it was a quieter man who returned home from Iraq, twice yearly.

His father, Terrence, said: "He told me a number of things when he came back from the war, about how he had lost a few of his mates. He was quiet. Changed, somehow."

Larkin's next appearance in the pages of the Chronicle was of a rather different nature. The image showed him standing on top of the Iraqi prisoner and, wearing just boxer shorts and a pair of flip-flops, holding a metal pole to the prisoner's head.

The reason given for him wearing boxer shorts was his love of sunbathing. Ironically, he had once mentioned this himself to old schoolfriends on the "Friends Reunited" website. "I'm in the Army, haven't been back from the Gulf long and I'm now sunning it up in exotic Kosovo," he wrote.

Larkin never gave evidence in his defence and showed little emotion during the court proceedings. A charge against him of disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind was dropped halfway through proceedings after the prosecution said it could not proceed with the case.

At the time, Terrence Larkin expressed his relief. But yesterday's verdicts stripped away what little pride Oldham had left in its Gulf soldier. The allegations are also believed to have put paid to Larkin's relationship with his girlfriend.