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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. We must move on.

10 Dec 1997 : Column 970

Major Milos Stankovic

12.30 pm

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): I am grateful for the opportunity to initiate a debate on an important case. I shall keep my remarks as short as possible, to allow others to speak. It is a debate about procedure and about a serving Army major who has been arrested under the Official Secrets Act 1911. It is not a debate about substance, as the major has not been charged. I do not know what any charges will be, or what they can be, because, during the relevant period, he was serving with the United Nations force in Bosnia--a force which, by definition, has neither secrets nor enemies--and, therefore, he could not be accused of passing a secret to an enemy.

Major Milos Stankovic is a serving officer with the Parachute Regiment. He is British, he has a British passport and he is a loyal British subject. His father was a Serb who fought with the Chetniks in the second world war and barely escaped with his life. He came to Britain with nothing, built a new life and started a family. In due course, his son Milos wanted to become a Regular Army officer and had the distinction of being selected by the Parachute Regiment. He served as a platoon commander and a captain with the UN force in Kuwait.

In October 1992, the British Army was deployed for the first time on a large scale in Bosnia and was looking for Serb speakers. It had only two in its ranks--both were the sons of Serbian fathers, and Milos Stankovic was one of them. He was assigned for four tours of duty--two years in Bosnia. He served longer there in hazardous conditions than any other British soldier. He acted as an interpreter, interpreting not only the language but the people, and as an adviser to Colonel Bob Stewart of the Cheshire Regiment, to General Smith and to General Rose. His job was to deal with the Serbs--the most difficult of the three ethnic groups--and he did so. His job was to win their trust, and he did so. His job was to get to know them, and he did so.

In the Bihac crisis of late November and early December 1994, Milos Stankovic was personally responsible for freeing 50 Canadian UN hostages held by the Serbs and unblocking convoys and the airport. He did that alone and with great distinction. He crossed front lines in a soft vehicle under fire. He is a man of great courage.

In May 1993, Major Stankovic saved the life of a Muslim woman wounded by Croatian sniper fire in the town of Vitez. He scooped her up and took her to hospital and saved her life. He was awarded the MBE. He received his medal from the Queen at Buckingham palace.

Beyond the line of duty, Major Stankovic took part in humanitarian endeavours. He was responsible for helping many people. I shall not specify exactly what he did, although if charges are laid against him I may have to do so because they bear upon his courage and his character. However, I shall read an extract of a letter that he received from a Muslim woman whom he had helped and who had a Serb husband:


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In spring 1995, Milos Stankovic was returned to normal soldiering. He served with distinction as a company commander with the first battalion of the Parachute Regiment in Aldershot and he was eventually selected to participate in the joint services task force at Bracknell. It was there on 16 October this year that the Ministry of Defence police came to get him. They arrested him, but they did not charge him. They took him to Guildford police station where he was locked in a cell. They told him that, because of the gravity of the case, he was not allowed to make a single telephone call. After two hours in the cell, the Guildford police quite properly countermanded that decision and allowed him to make a telephone call. Eight hours later, the arresting officers returned with a questionnaire. If their instructions had been obeyed, he would have had no advice in helping him with his replies.

During those eight hours, the police had been searching Milos Stankovic's house. They took away six boxes of documents, papers and mementoes--the kind of thing that people gather in war zones. They did not give him an itemised inventory, so he does not know exactly what they have. Therefore, it is difficult for him to prepare any defence. They took something from a shrine that he kept to the memory of his father who had died 18 months earlier. It may seem unusual for a serving British officer to have a shrine in his house, but there is nothing seditious or suspicious about it. They took his medals from his mess kit--the minature medals. They were the GSM for service in Northern Ireland, the UNIKOM medal for service in Kuwait, the Bosnia medal that he won four times over, and the MBE.

Last week, the police sent Major Stankovic a letter saying that he would have to be rebailed not, as originally agreed, on 11 December, but on 11 March. Apparently, there will now be a five-month fishing expedition. What was most upsetting was that the letter was addressed to Mr. Stankovic--there was no rank and no medal. It may seem a trifling discourtesy to someone who has not worn the Queen's uniform, but to someone in Major Stankovic's position it is a clear indication that he has already been judged guilty.

Major Stankovic has the same right as any serving soldier, charged with or under suspicion of having committed a grave offence, to have a senior soldier as his adviser, godfather or prisoner's friend. That courtesy has not been extended to him. He has been told to talk to no soldier, and any soldier who talks to him has to report it. He is left twisting in the wind.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for having given me notice that he intended to raise the subject. I represent Aldershot, the home of the Parachute Regiment. The hon. Gentleman is explaining that the major has not been allowed to talk to anyone serving in the Army. The Parachute Regiment has been adroit in representing the interests of some of its past members who have been in trouble. Does the hon. Gentleman know whether former members of the Parachute Regiment have been able to assist him or the major, and are they supporting him?

Mr. Bell: I believe that Major Stankovic has wide support within the regiment and, indeed, within the Army. A retired member of the regiment would be ideal. In some

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ways, General Sir Michael Rose would be ideal, but he cannot be involved because he may have to give evidence. The same applies to General Sir Rupert Smith who is the colonel-commandant of the regiment. The gap has not been filled and Major Stankovic still has no one to help him. The House should know that.

I had hoped that the Minister might be here, because I have some points to put to him. I wonder whether anyone else would like to intervene while I wait for the Minister.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey): Major Stankovic is a constituent of mine living in Farnham. I acknowledge the efforts of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) in finding an opportunity to raise his case in the House. Those who have already heard some of the background to the case will be deeply concerned. Clearly, Major Stankovic is an officer who has seen dangerous duty and shown courage in some of the most difficult circumstances.

The hon. Member for Tatton, on the basis of his specialist knowledge, has further information that the House and the Minister will no doubt wish to consider. As we learn more about the matter it seems that there are two elements, in particular, that the Minister will want to consider.

First, there is the question whether there is any truth in the allegations against my constituent. I am certainly in no position to provide any comment on that matter. If there is any truth in the allegations, and if they are substantial, one must ask the Secretary of State for Defence to hasten the inquiry and afford my constituent natural justice by allowing the evidence to come forward. Charges should be brought, or the investigation should be dropped and Major Stankovic publicly exonerated.

The present state of affairs, in which ignorance is prolonged by delay, is not fair. It is also enormously damaging to Major Stankovic and his family. Whatever the state of any allegations, there seems to have been great difficulty and lack of care and support in the way in which he has been treated.

There appears to be a conspiracy to hold my constituent completely incommunicado and to deprive him of essential evidence for his defence. There has been a choice not to follow the normal Army system of appointing an officer to advise him after his arrest, and he has been left with no information about whether charges are to be made.

Underlying that, there is also the possibility of personal danger arising from public allegations of partisanship in a vicious situation. As the constituency Member of Parliament, I add my concerns to those raised by the hon. Member for Tatton. Now that the Minister is here, I believe that the hon. Member may wish to address the House again.

Mr. Bell: I am grateful for the intervention by the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley). She mentioned Major Stankovic's family, and this is a time of great anxiety for him and of distress for his 75-year-old mother. May I say how grateful I am to see the Minister here, and how much I appreciate what he does? I believe that the armed forces are lucky to have him. That is genuine; I regard him as a friend.

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The case that I have been laying out is that of a serving major who I, like other people both in and out of uniform, feel has been denied due process. That applies especially to the fact that he was not allowed to make a telephone call after being arrested and that his medals and documents were taken. He has been left to twist in the wind.

I know that the Minister's powers in the matter are limited, but there are some things that he can do. I urge him to ensure that Major Stankovic's rights are respected and protected, and that his documents, including his driving licence, are returned to him, having been photocopied if necessary. I urge the Minister also to ensure that Major Stankovic's medals are returned, with an apology, and that the case is brought to an expeditious conclusion. I also urge him to wonder whether the fraud squad of the Ministry of Defence police is the right agency to investigate a matter of such complexity.

I finish with a question. What kind of a people are we, and what kind of a signal does it send, if we reward our heroes by arresting them? Heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Major Milos Stankovic is such a man.


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