The death of Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement is not only a tragedy in itself, it is also a grim insight into the worst aspects of Army culture.
The 30-year-old military policewoman was found hanged at Bulford Barracks in October 2011. Yesterday, an inquest ruled that the continuing effects of an alleged rape which Army investigators decided not to prosecute, and the bullying that resulted, were both factors in the suicide. Indeed, the coroner is recommending that the Ministry of Defence conduct a review of its welfare policies.
Quite right. The details of the case are a catalogue of failures. After the corporal claimed that she had been raped by two other soldiers while on a posting in Germany, and the military authorities had ruled there was insufficient evidence to bring charges, Cpl Ellement remained in the same barracks, accommodation that she shared with the girlfriend of one of the alleged attackers. The result was systematic bullying from colleagues who claimed that she had “cried rape” and broken the regiment’s code of silence. Then, although the corporal was placed on a suicide-risk register while in Germany, when she was transferred back to Britain, the information was not passed on – an oversight the coroner described yesterday as “unforgivably bad”.
Cpl Ellement’s family expressed relief at yesterday’s verdict and its confirmation that “Anne-Marie was treated appallingly and let down by the Army”. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has apologised and vowed to “learn lessons” from the failures identified by the coroner. But the matter does not end here. This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the treatment of soldiers who make complaints. Nor is it the first glimpse of a culture of bullying, abuse and sexual harassment (and worse) in Britain’s armed forces, or of official attempts to keep such matters out of the public eye.
There is no way to make amends for the death of Cpl Ellement. But at the very least the authorities can ensure that it never happens again. More than a decade after the unexplained deaths of four recruits at Deepcut Barracks, also amid claims of bullying, the military has still not satisfactorily tackled the problem. Now it must.