Lewd jokes were 'Carry On' humour, Army corporal says

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The Independent Online

Corporal Stewart "Spike" Milligan said he had not intended to intimidate Corporal Leah Mates when he spoke her name while pretending to masturbate in a communal tent while on duty in Kosovo. He told the tribunal that he was re-enacting a scene from the film When Harry Met Sally.

Cpl Mates is claiming £686,000 for 43 allegations of sexual discrimination at an employment tribunal in Southampton. The 30-year-old, from Calne, Wiltshire has told the hearing that she felt suicidal because of the alleged harassment and intends to leave the Army.

Cpl Mates has alleged that, while she was serving as a signaller in Kosovo, Cpl Milligan, her superior, said her name while masturbatingin a tent shared with her and about seven other male soldiers.

Cpl Milligan said he had not intended to offend Cpl Mates and believed she had gone along with the joke. He said: "When we had all gone to bed, I was being silly by acting out a scene from When Harry Met Sally. We were having a laugh, nobody complained about my actions. I was pretending to masturbate and calling out silly things.

"It was just banter. I distinctly remember she was laughing along with the rest of us. I understand now I was making her uncomfortable but she didn't ask me to stop."

He added that Cpl Mates had made comments during the incident but said he believed she had only been playing along. He said: "She was joking along with it by saying 'Oh shut up, oh, oh'. If she had complained straight away, I would have stopped. I took it as a 'Oh behave', a Carry On Camping kind of 'Oh behave'."

Cpl Milligan admitted under cross-examination by Cpl Mates' solicitor, John McKenzie, that he would not have made the joke if there had only been men in the tent. In a statement read to the tribunal, Cpl Milligan also admitted he used Cpl Mates' first name during the incident. He said: "If it had been a tent full of blokes and I had called out their names, they would have beaten the shit out of me."

He said he had received equal opportunities training but had only taken full awareness of it in 2000 after Cpl Mates complained about this incident.

Cpl Mates, who earns £27,000 a year, has made a range of allegations against Army personnel, from comments about the size of her breasts to lewd graffiti about her. Part of the evidence will be heard in private as it refers to periods when she was deployed to operate with the special forces in Northern Ireland.

Lieutenant Emma Fawcett, who was the commanding officer of Cpl Mates' unit at the time in Kosovo, said she felt the masturbation incident had been dealt with when Cpl Mates accepted a verbal apology from Cpl Milligan.

She said she sought advice from her superior officer before giving Cpl Mates the options of either making a formal complaint or dealing with it informally by way of the apology. The Ministry of Defence denies all the allegations.

The hearing continues.