Anger as army chief claims suicidal people are less intelligent

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A senior soldier caused outrage yesterday when he said Army recruits were of low intelligence and therefore more likely to commit suicide.

A senior soldier caused outrage yesterday when he said Army recruits were of low intelligence and therefore more likely to commit suicide.

The comments, from Lieutenant-General Anthony Palmer, the Army's deputy chief of defence staff (personnel), came on the day a report accusing the British military of an appalling failure in its duty of care over the treatment of recruits was published. The criticism is the second time in less than two weeks that the Army has been accused of failing in its duty of care to recruits.

The inquiry found high suicide rates among those under 20 in the Army, 1.7 times more than civilians, five times more than the Navy and three times more than the RAF. Lt- Gen Palmer said at a press conference in London yesterday: "There is statistically a predisposition to self harm and suicide among the less intelligent and by and large the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy recruit at a higher level of educational attainment than the army."

But Geoff Gray, the father of a Deepcut soldier who was found dead at the barracks in 2001, said: "It is very rare I am lost for words but this has incensed me. It is an insult to the soldiers who died and Lt-Gen Palmer is a disgrace. The defence select committee found there was a catalogue of failures of duty of care ... but here is this general just absolving responsibility for anything.

"It is no wonder the British Army is in such a state with people like him at the top. Is he inferring that the army are taking on less intelligent people and expecting them to commit suicide?

The latest indictment of Army practice came in a study commissioned by the Government, prompting the Armed Forces minister, Adam Ingram, to immediately stress that action would be taken. Among the measures being considered, he said, was an independent complaints commission, a move resisted by some in the defence hierarchy who say it will undermine the chain of command.

The reports, by the Commons Defence Committee and the second by the Adult Learning Institute (ALI) on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, followed the deaths of four soldiers at Deepcut barracks in Surrey.

The ALI investigation, the most comprehensive on the MoD's duty of care, found serious problems ranging from suicides of young soldiers and abuse by inspectors to accommodation that was "little better than slums".

The investigation found that at least 10 per cent of military personnel suffered bullying, although the actual number was likely to be higher because "the number of complaints recorded is too low to be credible". The newest recruits, women and people from minority groups are particularly vulnerable."

Asked whether the type of training had contributed to abuse of civilians in Iraq, David Sherlock, the chief inspector for adult learning, said there was evidence of instructors "revisiting the abuse they suffered as recruits on others ... and recycling the worst aspects of military culture".

The ALI also said racial taunts were dismissed as mere banter and part of a "tradition of nicknames". Despite directives, many bases have not appointed an equal opportunities officer.