'A darned good regiment, but this is an absolute disgrace'

Residents in troops' home town are appalled
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The Independent Online

There was open talk of disgrace in Lancashire yesterday, and nowhere more so than in Accrington, a traditional recruiting ground for the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, and the place where copies of the notorious torture photographs were handed round earlier this year.

There was open talk of disgrace in Lancashire yesterday, and nowhere more so than in Accrington, a traditional recruiting ground for the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, and the place where copies of the notorious torture photographs were handed round earlier this year.

Today's QLRs are the direct regimental descendants of the Accrington Pals who died on the Somme in the First World War.

Seven hundred Pals climbed out of their trenches on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Twenty minutes later, two German machine gunners had killed 235 of them and wounded 350.

The Pals' Memorial Chapel at St John the Evangelist is only a few hundred yards from the Bold Street Working Men's Club in Accrington, where the photographs first surfaced six months ago.

Former grenadier guardsman Anthony Quinn, 43, who argued with the young Iraq veterans about the military and ethical merit of treating prisoners well, said: "These young lads appalled us. They were passing round all sorts of pictures of prisoners being humiliated in the stress position. We all know how bad that is. Some were laughing about it. Others were upset, saying you have got to think about your mates coming along after an outrage like this. I'm surprised at the QLR getting involved in this. The whole town has been muttering about this for weeks.''

A retired Territorial Army officer, with long service in the QLR and the Parachute Regiment, agreed to talk provided his name was not published: "This is an absolute disgrace which can only really be blamed on the officers in the regiment. All power corrupts. If soldiers are put in a position of untrammelled power over a prisoner, some, like all human beings, will behave badly, unless they are kept on the rails by regimental morale and discipline - just what was missing at Bloody Sunday.

"I am surprised that the QLR ... have got into this mess, but morale goes up and down. They came back earlier this year and paraded through Preston. Everything seemed to have gone well. But morale has clearly collapsed at some point. They are not a fancy regiment but have been a darned good fish-and-chips regiment with citations right back to Waterloo.''

The regimental museum at the barracks in Fulwood, Preston, was closed to the public yesterday, but in Catterick, North Yorkshire, where the Queen's Lancashire soldiers had been garrisoned, people were unanimous in their condemnation.

Private Chris Smith, 20, of the Royal Cheshire Regiment, said: "It is just not how we are taught to behave and it is certainly not what the public have come to expect of British troops. We are given lots of training on how to treat prisoners of war and it is nothing like this."

Private Smith has just finished his army basic training at Catterick and in three weeks his regiment is heading to Iraq for six months' peace-keeping duty.

"Seeing the images last week from the American troops was sickening enough, and we knew it was going to make our job so much harder in Iraq. But discovering lads from this garrison doing similar things has come as a surprise and a big shock."

A local publican, who asked not to be named, said: "The Army has brought this on themselves and, to be perfectly honest, these pictures have not really surprised me. I know what some squaddies are like."

Pte Peter Hardy, 19, of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, also based at Catterick Garrison, said: "It is so very wrong, but at the same time I think a lot of people don't quite understand what exactly is going on out there and the kind of pressure our troops are under.

"But it seems the idiocy of one squaddie has brought shame on all of us, and it is certainly not going to help the peace-keeping effort."

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