The Armed Forces Bill - Armed Forces Committee Contents

Written evidence from Daniels Trust

1.  Daniels Trust was formed in 2005 in responses to requests for help from parents of soldiers who were experiencing problems in the Army. From that we endeavour to support the parents and family and by liaising with the Adjutant Generals office to resolve the difficulties that have arisen.

2.  Members from the Trust in the past have given evidence at "Blakes Review" and previous Defence Select Committees "Duty of Care 2005" and the last "Armed Forces Bill in 2006" from which various recommendations where made. We were also founder members of Deepcut & Beyond and the All Party Group on Army Deaths in the last government.

3.  One of the recommendations was the appointment and setting up of the Service Complaints Commissioner.

4.  Daniels Trust receives calls from both serving soldiers and veterans. The calls range from being AWOL, bullying, dismissal from the army, pensions or how some veterans have never got their lives back on track since leaving the army.

5.  We have met with the Commissioner and speak to her or her office on regular occasions. If we get a complaint of bullying, discrimination, harassment from a soldier and we have had similar complaints in the past form the same regiments we will call the Commissioner this helps her identify any hot spots that may occur if she has had similar complaints, we also recommend that the soldier or their family lodge a formal complaint through the correct processes ie chain of command however, in some cases this is not possible, as we have found requests through chain of command sometimes get stopped before it reaches the correct level.

6.  The setting up of the Commissioner has been for the better in ensuring the effective handling and fairness of a complaint. However, we do not feel her remit goes far enough and that the time it takes for a complaint to be dealt with can take a considerable time even though it has now been condensed to three levels instead of five. Some of the cases we have spoken to Dr Atkins about we have dealt with our selves as we can get them sorted a lot quicker but have also asked the soldier or their family to submit a complaint at the end of our process.

We feel that:

7.  Dr Atkins should be able to make effective recommendations in some cases where complaints are being picked up by the Service as being significantly wrong.

8.  Rather than having separate complaints system for welfare issues it would simplify the systems if there were only one oversight.

9.  Daniels Trust receive complaints from veterans who have suffered whilst in the Armed Forces and that it has affected their lives when the have come out. There is nowhere for them to lodge a complaint as it is not within the three month time frame to enable them to do so. The Service should be able to look at these complaints.

10.  The recommendation of a Service Complaints Commissioner was born out of the Blake inquiry and the Duty of Care which looked at the deaths of Deepcut soldiers. These deaths were non operational as a long with many others Catterick for instance and Overseas deaths in non operational countries. So you would have thought that this would be a conduit for those families to have their grievances heard. Ironically the parents of these soldiers and who gave evidence are still failed by the present system.

11.  In 2009 Daniels Trust went on a visit to Catterick with Kevan Jones MP and General Rollo the then Adjutant General (AG) it was at this visit that the Trust was given a direct telephone number to the AGs office for any cases of bullying or where soldiers were AWOL and where the Trust was finding it difficult to speak to the commanding officers. This has worked extremely well over the past few years in getting soldiers either back to their regiments to sort out the problems or in obtaining transfers from one regiment to another.

12.  Since November we have passed nine cases to the new Harassment and Bullying Helpline which has recently been set up in the AGs office.

  1. ¾  Four cases from the Mercian Regiment,
  2. ¾  Four soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment, and
  3. ¾  One soldier that was AWOL from his regiment.

13.  The four soldiers from the RIR are AWOL in southern Ireland and have suffered discrimination because they are Catholic in a mainly protestant regiment.

14.  This again is another complaints system within the Armed Forces outside the jurisdiction of the Service Complaints Commissioner.

15.  Some of the complaints the Trust receive are from parents of young soldier who have enlisted under the age of 18. I personally feel that the enlistment age of 16 is too young. They even had to be 17 to enlist in WW1. It was also a recommendation of the 2005 Select Committee on Duty of Care to look at the recruitment of under 18s.

16.  "Thinking of joining the armed forces. BEFORE YOU SIGN UP".

17.  "Still under 18? If you are under 18 and are genuinely unhappy in the army, you may apply for special permission to leave and this is normally granted, although it is at the discretion of the army and is not a legal right. To take this option you must apply to your commanding officer before you turn 18. Your CO can delay departure if he or she is unconvinced that you are permanently unhappy in the army but normally you will be allowed to leave."

18.  Again the above depend on going through chain of command and is some cases the CO may never receive that request.

19.  In particular quite recent a young soldier that knew he had made a wrong decision went through all legal process of asking to leave and was denied all requests. He went AWOL as a lot of them do. In the end out of desperation he had his friend run over his leg with a car. By the time all this went to court martial the soldier turned 18. Last December he was sentenced to 12 months in Colchester for malingering then to be dismissed. At his appeal the 12 month sentence was squashed and he was dismissed. This should never have gone that far.

20.  Another young soldier that enlisted at 16 was finally dismissed on medical grounds from Catterick after an horrendous ordeal. He never got his life back on track, he self harmed his arms were a mess. He was dead before his 21st birthday of Drug and Alcohol abuse.

21.  Another young man aged 16 saw an advert in the job centre for an armourer but after his basic training was told he did not have the necessary qualifications for this job and was allocated the infantry.

22.  One young man aged 17 when he joined wanted to join the Anglian Regiment but after his basic training was put into the Mercian Regiment and has had a terrible time he is now 20 and as been AWOL more than he has been with his regiment because of the treatment he has received in the Regiment. He asked for transfer on more than one occasion and would have been happy to transfer to another regiment two years ago and has been refused even a transfer. He is now in Colchester awaiting court martial and dismissal. This is one of the cases that we recommended the parents and the soldier concerned to submit to Dr Atkins.

23.  These are just a few of the cases whose parents have contacted us. Under 18s have to be signed into the armed forces by their parents or next of kin and that their engagement doesn't start until there 18th birthday so if their CO refuses to let them leave they will be 22 before this is possible.

24.  The young people who go in under 18 that we are aware of usually have no or very poor qualifications so the only option opened to them is logistics or Infantry as a front line soldier once they reach 18. Over a third of under 18s are in the infantry. The average reading age at Catterick at one time was 11. Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, 24% of British fatalities have been aged 18 to 21. Many of them will have enlisted as teenagers.

25.  Some argue that they have opportunities of furthering their education if enlisting under 18 continues surely this should be mandatory especially with the school leaving age being raised to 18 and the Armed Forces being seen as a training provider.

26.  Some of the comments that parents make to us of under 18s is that "he didn't do very well at school", "the army was his last resort", "he is dyslexic".

27.  Parents sign their children in to the army expecting them to uphold a duty of care. Where the army fails on this surely it should not be just a right to ask for special permission to leave but a right to leave if under 18 especially if these two years do not count towards Service and when there have been cases of bullying. Also with the parent giving permission for them to join the armed forces why should it be the COs decision whether they can leave or not surely the parent that signed them in should be able to rescind their permission if they feel that the army have failed and be able to sign them out. In civilian life they are still classed as children until the age of 18.

28.  There is a very strong case against enlistment of under 18s. We are the only country in Europe to do so and have ratified the treaty on the use of child soldiers in 2003 but retain the right of enlistment.

14 February 2011

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