A soldier who chose to go Awol rather than be redeployed to Afghanistan was jailed for nine months by a military court yesterday.
L/cpl Joe Glenton, 27, pleaded guilty to a charge of going absent without leave during a court martial hearing in Colchester, Essex. He was also demoted to the rank of private.
The court heard that Glenton, who has become a strident anti-war campaigner and who has spoken at several rallies, was found to be absent on 11 June 2007, when he was due to return to Dalton Barracks in Abingdon in Oxfordshire. He remained Awol for 737 days until he handed himself in on 16 June 2009, during which time he visited south-east Asia and Australia.
His defence team said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which emerged after he was first deployed to Afghanistan with the Royal Logistic Corps for seven months in 2006. He absented himself when his unit was ordered back to the country after only nine months, even though the Army's own guidelines suggest soldiers should not serve a second tour of duty until 18 months have passed.
His barrister, Nick Wrack, told the court that Glenton had been bullied after he expressed concerns about going back. "When he first raised with his staff sergeant his reluctance to be deployed again, instead of being dealt with in a sensible way it resulted in the sergeant at the time bullying and intimidating L/cpl Glenton," said Wrack."He was called a coward and a malingerer." However, Judge Advocate Emma Peters ruled that he had left his comrades "under-manned at a crucial time" before their deployment, and that he had not allowed the Army to help him with his problems. "Rather than letting the system help you, you decided to go absent," she said.
Glenton was originally charged with the more serious offence of desertion, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. This was dropped amid suspicion that he would attempt to defend himself on the grounds that the entire war was illegal. A spokeswoman for Stop the War Coalition told The Independent that the military was making an example of Glenton to stop other soldiers from copying him.
"We think it's an outrageous sentence. Far from being someone who deserves jail, Joe Glenton has actually stood up very bravely for his principles – principles which most of the rest of the country share," she said.
"The judge herself made it clear the sentence was not based on the facts of the case but on a desire to deter other members of the military from taking a stand of conscience."
Glenton, who is now celebrated in anti-war circles, left court with one fist held defiantly aloft. He will serve two thirds of his sentence at a military corrective training centre, and the 29 days he has already spent in custody will be taken into account.
His legal representative, John Tipple, from Lynn Associates, said they planned to launch an appeal.
"What we have seen here today is the Ministry of Defence and the Government refusing to take account of the fact that thousands of soldiers are suffering from PTSD," he said.
"It is quite obvious that the judge decided that Joe Glenton should pay for showing courage and speaking out to the media against an illegal war."
Last month, a Freedom of Information request by The Independent revealed that British soldiers had gone Awol on more than 17,000 occasions since 2003. And 375 soldiers remained at large at the end of last year.