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Army launches investigation into 'false medal citations'

Major's arrest sparks the first inquiry into gallantry awards in 300 years

Sadie Gray
Sunday 03 May 2009 00:00 BST

An inquiry into the awarding of medals for gallantry will be launched for the first time in 300 years of British military history after an Army officer was arrested in an investigation into alleged false citations.

Major Robert Armstrong, of the Royal Artillery, was detained by the Royal Military Police and will be interviewed under caution.

His arrest on Friday followed claims from a fellow officer that the citation for the Military Cross which Major Armstrong was awarded in March was "overblown", and that he had not in fact carried out the actions attributed to him.

Major Armstrong, 35, received the MC for "consistent bravery and inspirational leadership" during his service in Afghanistan last year, when he was attached to the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment in Helmand Province.

He won the medal for his actions when his convoy of British and Afghan army vehicles came under attack in Gereshk Valley, returning fire with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, directing the rescue of a badly wounded Afghan soldier and safely detonating a number of roadside bombs.

A total of 17 honours and awards bestowed upon members of the Royal Irish battle group may be reviewed if the allegations against Major Armstrong prove to have any substance.

The battle group's commanding officer, Lt-Col Edward Freely, could also face questioning. He was responsible for the citations for the 17 awards, which included three Conspicuous Gallantry Crosses.

In Major Armstrong's case, the unnamed officer claimed the major had exaggerated his involvement in battles, The Sunday Telegraph reported. His citation said: "While mentoring the Afghan National Army vehicle patrol, Armstrong showed consistent bravery and inspirational leadership. As a result of his calm leadership under fire, losses were prevented and the lives of those injured were saved."

A military source told the paper: "The officer who made the complaint has said that not only is the 'under fire' aspect of the citation in question but that much of what Major Armstrong claims he was involved in actually happened to the complaining officer. It also raises question marks over the integrity of the armed forces, which is based on honour and trust."

An Army spokesman said: "The integrity of the operational honours system is a matter of utmost importance to us. Any suggestion that it has fallen short of the very high standards that we set ourselves are taken extremely seriously and are investigated thoroughly.

"We are aware of an allegation that a citation on which a gallantry award was made on the March 2009 Operational Honours list was factually incorrect.

"The Royal Military Police Special Investigation Branch are investigating the matter and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment further."

The British Army announced a total of 177 honours covering operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in March.

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