Amnesty demands army 'bullying deaths' inquiry

Amnesty international and a cross-party group of 174 MPs called yesterday for a public inquiry into the violent deaths of 1,734 young British soldiers in non-combat circumstances in the past 13 years.

The human rights group and bereaved families accused the Government of a cover-up over the killings and failing to address complaints of bullying and sexual harassment in the armed forces.

Families of soldiers killed at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey and others claimed at the launch of an Amnesty report, Army Barracks Deaths: Families Demand Justice, that the Ministry of Defence had abjectly failed in its "duty of care" to service personnel.

Livio Zilli, of Amnesty, the report's author, said Britain was the only country in Europe to enlist and deploy combat soldiers under 18. There was "a legitimate and growing perception that there had been an institutional collusion in, and cover-up of such incidents", he said. "In recent years, Amnesty International has received serious allegations regarding some of the deaths of UK armed forces personnel in non-combat circumstances.

"The organisation is concerned that the circumstances surrounding many of these fatalities continue to be disputed. Some of these allegations refer to possible unlawful killings, either intentional or as a result of negligence, through, for example, the misuse of lethal weapons ... and self-inflicted deaths, at times following bullying and other ill-treatment, including sexual harassment."

Kevin McNamara, the Labour MP for Hull North, one of the organisers of the campaign for a public inquiry, said "This is a serious issue that is not going to go away. The more people you get joining up, the more the campaign becomes public and the involvement of Amnesty will raise the the profile considerably".

Lembit Opik, Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire, said: " The report calls for justice ... and so do I. The lack of willingness for fast government action on this matter rings alarm bells, simply because, if nobody's done anything wrong, they should have nothing to hide."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We extend our sympathies to all those who have lost loved ones. We take our responsibility of care of very seriously to young people. We have zero tolerance of bullying or harassment, but we are determined to learn from any tragedy."

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