Doing things the Army way: Another View

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The Independent Online
"They're tough so they must be thugs." The Parachute Regiment knows that the first public reaction to any incident like the attack in Aldershot by four of their soldiers on James McGuire will be, "it only goes to show".

That is why the Army, and especially the Parachute Regiment, are so furious. A court martial would certainly have sentenced these four more severely.

It has been suggested that the Commanding Officer should now send them to prison or kick them out of the Army. But he has no power to do this: only a court martial could send a soldier to prison for more than 28 days or dismiss him from the service. But in any case, the men cannot now be tried again for the same offence, either in a civil court or by court martial. The CO has done all he legally can do for the time being - to reduce the NCOs to the ranks, and to warn them of the consequences of further misbehaviour.

What are these consequences?

First, if they commit another offence - any other offence - they can be tried and punished summarily or by court martial up to the maximum for that offence. This could include dismissal from the service.

Second, the warning they have already received can be carried through over the coming months by further warnings for bad behaviour or incompetence. During this period, if they received a second warning, they would be transferred to another company in thebattalion - that is, under a different major - and if he too had to reiterate the warning, the machinery for discharge could be put into effect.

There are, however, two other remedies. First is an appeal by the Attorney General against these light sentences. This would be heard by the Appeal Court and their sentences could be increased - a power only recently introduced.

The second remedy will already have begun. The Parachute Regiment will leave them in no doubt that they can do without soldiers like these. They are disciplined enough to prevent any personal victimisation or a "beating up behind the cookhouse", but I would not envy the soldiers' lives in a battalion where discipline is tough and those enforcing the discipline regard them with disgust. I would be surprised if any of the four stay very much longer in the Army.

When I was CO of a Sapper regiment in a Yorkshire town, we had an excellent arrangement with the police. If they caught soldiers making trouble they telephoned us and we picked them up within minutes. The police knew that we would be much tougher on themthan the magistrates would. This suited both us and the police.

The long-term remedy? Above all, as your leader said yesterday, root out the remnants of the Edwardian notion of a link between virility and drink.

The writer, a former Major General, has written 18 books about violence.

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