A handful of defence chiefs are enjoying huge salary and pension packages that have increased by tens of thousands in the past year and are now worth at least £18m.
The revelations prompted anger yesterday among grieving relatives of soldiers who have died as a result of shortages in vital equipment, with campaigners accusing the Defence Management Board of having a self-serving attitude that cannot be afforded in today's financial climate.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff, received a £15,000 pay rise this year, taking his salary from £210,000 to £225,000. As well as enjoying the use of an official service residence at a cost to the taxpayer of £37,000, he also has a pension fund worth more than £2.4m, which will pay him a pension of £120,000 a year when he finally retires. On top of that, Sir Jock will get a lump sum payment of £350,000.
Eight executive directors of the 10-strong Defence Board managed to rake in nearly £200,000 worth of benefits-in-kind – shorthand for the use of official cars for their own private use, not to mention living in official service residences. The figure of £194,400 is significantly higher than the £180,200 of benefits-in-kind enjoyed in 2006-07.
The salary details, revealed in the Ministry of Defence's annual report for 2007-08, show that the salaries for Defence Board directors have risen from £1,615,000 in 2006-07 to £1,685,000 in 2007-08. And nine directors will share lump sum payments totalling more than £2m on their retirement, not to mention sharing in on an overall pension pot that is worth more than £14m and will pay out £750,000 a year.
Sarah Chapman, whose brother Flight Sergeant Bob O'Connor was one of 10 servicemen killed when their RAF Hercules aircraft, which had not been fitted with explosive-suppressant foam, was shot down over Iraq in 2005, said yesterday: "They cannot justify the amounts they are getting paid. It's just not necessary. I'm absolutely speechless; I cannot believe it. The acceptance of these perks and salaries goes to highlight the self-serving attitude these high-ranking officers have."
She accused military chiefs of "arrogance" and added: "It would seem that they're not serving the armed forces; the armed forces are serving them, because ultimately the money could be better used to ensure that there are not the failings that we are seeing time and time again."
Reg Keys, whose son Thomas was one of six military police killed by a mob in Iraq, said: "My son died for the want of a distress flare, which costs a couple of quid. Yet they can find all this money for officers." His son died after being unable to summon help from nearby soldiers in 2003 because the men had no satellite phone.
The latest revelations of the rewards given to senior officers come against a backdrop of chronic staff and equipment shortages across the military that have come to light in recent years. Last week The Independent on Sunday revealed how senior ranks benefit from nearly £100m a year spent on special allowances. The vast majority, £87m, is spent on paying for private school fees for their children. In the RAF alone, £1m was spent on chauffeurs, £3.4m on waiters and waitresses in officers' messes and a further £800,000 on bar staff. Chefs dedicated to serving senior officers cost another £2.8m a year. This brings the known total spent on special privileges to at least £95m – a sum that would buy three Chinook helicopters or more than 100 Mastiff vehicles, 9,500 suits of body armour or a Typhoon fighter and pilot training.
Last night the MoD said: "The members of the Defence Board bring to the table extensive defence and military experience and expertise; crucial to their role in directing the MoD and the armed forces, at a time when we are engaged in two complex operations vital to national security... Its value should be judged by the achievements of our armed forces in helping to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan."
The Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, a member of the Commons Defence Committee, said the pay levels were "excessive". "When you have the head of the Army saying young soldiers are not paid enough, while he is raking in these sums, it does not look good," said the MP for Portsmouth South, who has vowed to raise questions about the salaries and perks in Parliament. "It seems that the people on active service are carrying all the risks here, while a few of their superiors are carrying the gold."