Army training instructors suspended after bullying exposé

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The Independent Online

Five Army training instructors accused in an undercover BBC documentary of bullying recruits have been suspended while military authorities carry out investigations. The men, all ranked corporal, are alleged to have verbally and physically abused young soldiers at the Army's biggest training base at Catterick, North Yorkshire.

In the programme, Undercover Soldier, the reporter Russell Sharp joined the Army and spent five months cataloguing the claims of abuse on fellow recruits using his mobile telephone to carry out filming. During that time, Mr Sharp says he was himself manhandled by one of the trainers.

The programme was commissioned by the BBC after the Deepcut report into the deaths of four teenage soldiers between 1995 and 2002 amid accusations of bullying, following which the Ministry of Defence announced a series of reforms to prevent the recurrence of such abuse.

The documentary's executive editor, Clive Edwards, said the evidence uncovered by the programme showed the extent to which young soldiers still faced bullying and problems within the system. The Army, however, stressed that three of those accused of abuse had already been suspended following complaints from recruits before the BBC even came to the Ministry of Defence with their film. Two others were suspended after the programme was viewed.

But one senior army officer said: "The BBC have sat on these cases for more than nine months. That obviously has an impact on evidence and the ability to carry out a satisfactory inquiry."

Recruits complained in the programme of being battered, punched and kicked. One claimed that he was urinated on by a corporal who just laughed when he protested.

One trainee claimed: "I was battered in the head – bam, bam, bam – my head was ringing." Another trainee said: "No one takes them on as everyone fears that, if they do, they will be victimised. I am not telling you what I have seen, I am telling you what I have felt."

One recruit said that he had become the butt of the abuse of a corporal and was beaten every day. Another showed his hand with a finger he said had been broken by a trainer who had attacked him in the lavatories.

There were also instances of racial prejudice in the programme, with some recruits talking about "shooting ragheads" and "hating Pakis... We want to kill them". The reporter acknowledged, however, that corporals and sergeants repeatedly spoke up against racism and advised soldiers that they should not vote for the BNP as it was a racist party.

Responding to the footage collected by the BBC documentary, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, commented: "We have a duty to train our soldiers in a robust manner... But when that strays on to bullying, action will be taken just as we have taken action against those who have been accused of bullying Iraqi civilians. The Army does not tolerate bullying in any shape or form."

However, Geoff Gray, 45, from Hackney, east London, whose son – also called Geoff – was one of the four privates who died in unexplained circumstances at Deepcut, said he believed the Army had "failed to learn their lessons".

He continued: "The Army says there is zero tolerance on bullying, but that clearly is not the case, even after a duty of care investigation. Our boys deserve the very best – they must feel extremely let down. I only hope these latest allegations really shake them up."