Officer tells of anger over jungle trip

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THE STIFF upper lips were showing signs of curling sharply at the edges yesterday when the Army allowed the survivors of the ill-fated Mount Kinabalu expedition in Borneo to speak about their ordeal.

Lt-Col Robert Neill, 46, who led the expedition and survived a month in the jungle, said at a York press conference that he was 'extremely angry'. He denied losing control of the expedition, adding: 'I did not authorise the first group to proceed beyond the bottom of Easy Valley . . . There appears to have been a breakdown in communication, but without having talked to the soldiers themselves I am not prepared to comment further other than to say I am extremely angry.' He said that after the first group of soldiers had left the expedition he was left 'with the oldies and the rookies'.

The plan had been that the younger soldiers would press on and look for escape routes and Lt-Col Neill and Major Ron Foster, 54, the second-in-command, would look after the less experienced team members - three Hong Kong soldiers.

The team of 10 was split into two groups with the 'whippets,' marginally fitter and significantly younger soldiers, going ahead. Asked whether he had been left behind, Lt-Col Neill said: 'That is my perception at the moment but I am sure there are reasons for it.'

His group had been put 'in jeopardy'. They were rescued after a massive operation by the Malaysian air force and army, jungle rangers, and a British services team.

The other group which pressed on was led by Corporal Hugh Brittan, who sat alongside Lt-Col Neill and Major Foster yesterday.

Cpl Brittan said he would go on any future expedition led by Lt-Col Neill, despite what had happened. Asked whether he would take Cpl Brittan, Lt-Col Neill paused and said: 'Yes. I think you can be assured that he has a bright future.' Major Foster, a Territorial Army officer, who is being paid pounds 20,000 by the Daily Mail for the serialisation of their escapade, said yesterday most of that money would be going to rescue charities in Malaysia.

It was the first time that all three men had been together since the rescue and their thoughts produced a new insight into the Mount Kinabalu trip.

Lt-Col Neill will shortly be called before a special board of inquiry which is to examine the expedition in detail, in particular the 'planning and conduct' of the team.

Flouting law of the jungle, page 17