Returning soldiers 'more likely to commit violent crimes at home if they witnessed traumatic events in combat'

Study of nearly 14,000 military personnel finds 20% of young soldiers had violence conviction

Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to commit violent crimes at home if they have witnessed traumatic events during active combat, according to the first detailed study into violent offending in the military.

An investigation of nearly 14,000 military personnel found that about 20 per cent of young servicemen under the age of 30 had at least one conviction for a violent offence compared with less than 7 per cent for young men of a similar age in the general population.

The scientists who carried out the research found a strong association between the likelihood of being a violent offender and exposure to traumatic incidents during combat. They also found a link between violent offending and alcohol misuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study found that while the overall rate of lifetime criminality among military personnel was lower than the general population, the incidence of violent offending among ex-servicemen – ranging from threats of violent to serious assaults or worse – was 11 per cent compared with 8.7 per cent among men at large.

The researchers emphasised that they have not proven that active combat causes the increased incidence of violent criminality seen among ex-military men after they return home, but they said that the link needs to be understood so that ex-servicemen can receive counselling and help.

“The findings provide information that can enable better violence risk assessment in serving and ex-serving military personnel,” said Deidre MacManus of King’s College London, the lead author of the study published in The Lancet.

“They draw attention to the role of mental health problems and the potential effect that appropriate management of alcohol misuse, post-traumatic stress disorder… and aggressive behaviour could have in reducing the risk of violence,” Dr MacManus said.

The study compared military records of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, provided by the Ministry of Defence, with criminal records held on the Ministry of Justice’s Police National Computer. Of the 13,856 randomly selected serving and ex-serving personnel, 12,359 were men.

Although criminal behaviour in general over a person’s lifetime was lower among the military compared with the general male population, the increased incidence of violent offending was significantly higher, Dr MacManus said.

“There has been a lot of media coverage and public debate about violence committed by veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our study, which used official criminal records, found that violent offending was most common among young men from the lower ranks of the Army and was strongly associated with a history of violent offending before joining the military,” Dr MacManus said.

“Serving in a combat role and traumatic experiences on deployment also increased the risk of violent behaviour….There was a three-fold increase in the risk of violent offending among men who served in a combat role,” she said.

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, a co-author of the study, said that men who had a record of violence before joining the military were more likely to be violent offenders after they had completed their term of service and that alcohol misuse often played a significant role.

“The problems are often when people have left the military. They leave early and they re-offend. These are issues that are not just health issues, they cross the health and social-care divide. We already know that alcohol plays a role in most disciplinary offences in the military,” Professor Wessely said.

“It’s the nature of the profession [to be aggressive]. Some people with aggressive dispositions make very good soldiers. You meet a lot of people in the armed forces who you are rather glad are in the military – it does them a lot of good. Equally, there are some who do not do well and go on to become violent offenders,” he said.

Over the past 10 years a number of studies have found links between active combat and adverse effects on the mental health of service personnel. In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder, ex-servicemen are more likely to suffer anxiety, depression and alcohol misuse compared to men of the same age in the general population, the study says.

Commenting on the report, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting members of our Armed Forces and their families as they return to civilian life post deployment.

“That is why we funded this research and have comprehensive mental health support available before, during and after operations. We also ensure that all personnel go through a thorough period of decompression to help make this adjustment.

“This report recognises that the vast majority of service personnel make this adjustment successfully and are not more likely to commit a violent offence post deployment – there is only an increased risk of two per cent when compared to the general population.

“However, any violent offence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by our Armed Forces. If a member of our Armed Forces or their family experiences violence there is a wide range of support and help available to them.”

News
Alex Salmond said he accepted 'the democratic verdict of the people'
newsSNP leader says Scotland must move forward as 'one nation'
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Randst...

Sessional ICT Teacher - GCSE

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT teacher job in Humberside. ...

Year 6 Teacher - January start

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

History Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week