British troops 'dread' coming home to appalling barracks

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Indy Politics

Troops currently suffering heavy losses in Afghanistan "dread" returning to their barracks in London because they are in such a disgraceful state of disrepair, a senior MP said yesterday.

James Arbuthnot, the Conservative chairman of the influential Defence Select Committee, revealed how soldiers forbidden to speak to the media had complained bitterly about the conditions their families were forced to endure.

The revelation comes just one day after the head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said the public fails to appreciate what soldiers are going through and treats returning troops with indifference.

It will add further pressure on the Government, which is facing a growing chorus of disapproval over breach of the Military Covenant, which says that soldiers who risk their lives should be fairly treated.

Gen Dannatt spoke about the covenant, arguing that the "population at large" was in breach of it by ignoring returning soldiers.

This newspaper has highlighted breaches of the covenant and widespread demands for a raft of improvements for our servicemen and women, ranging from equipment to the treatment of bereaved families.

The dreadful state of some military accommodation is yet another area where troops are being badly let down. Serving soldiers have been ordered not to discuss their complaints with the media and they are reluctant to speak out for fear of punishment.

Nevertheless, one soldier from Hounslow barracks, where the Mercian Regiment is based, who cannot be named, described how his house has "stained and badly fitted carpets, windows that don't open... doors that don't shut... asbestos in the shed roof and in the kitchen cupboards". He added: "I now have a wet, sagging patch on my living room ceiling because there is a leak in the bathroom and the outside of the property has subsidence cracks in it."

Army internet chatrooms are also full of complaints about lengthy waits for repairs and poor housing.

Mr Arbuthnot's statement, echoing these comlaints, came just a week after Parliament published a damning report on the state of forces' accommodation. It described barracks with broken windows and blocked drains.

The select committee chairman said soldiers from the Mercian Regiment, who lost two more men in a road accident last week, have to put up with "appalling" conditions at their barracks in Hounslow. He explained that because the barracks are due to be sold, repairs are not carried out. He said: "There would be an outcry if council housing was in this condition. There might be an outcry if people in Her Majesty's custody were in this accommodation."

A letter seen by The Independent on Sunday reveals that many service families have to wait almost five days for "emergency repairs".

An MoD spokeswoman said: "We recognise there is a legacy of under-investment in service accommodation, but... last year we invested £700m on improvements. This year we will spend £870m, and over the next decade, we expect to spend more than £5bn."

Further reading: 'Desert of Death: A Soldier's Journey from Iraq to Afghanistan' by Leo Docherty (Faber, £14.99)