UK: Armed forces families deserve justice

The UK government should immediately establish a full, independent inquiry into non-combatant deaths in disputed circumstances among members of the UK Armed Forces, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty International said: 'Sadly, the manner in which the investigations into the deaths of the four soldiers at Deepcut barracks were conducted has led to a legitimate perception that there has been institutional collusion in and cover-up of the circumstances surrounding these deaths.'

Their report, 'Army Barracks Deaths: Families Demand Justice' was launched at the House of Commons today, with Kevin McNamara MP and members of the bereaved families..

In recent years, Amnesty International has received serious allegations regarding some of the deaths of UK Armed Forces personnel in non-combat circumstances. The organisation is concerned at the circumstances surrounding many of these fatalities, some of which continue to be disputed. Some of these allegations refer to possible unlawful killings, either intentional or as a result of negligence, through, for example:

  • the misuse of lethal weapons;
  • deaths during strenuous training exercises; and
  • self-inflicted deaths, at times following bullying and other ill-treatment, including sexual harassment by other soldiers and/or by superiors.

Amnesty International has received reports that, in a number of cases, the UK authorities have failed to take adequate measures to ensure prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into these deaths and to address the disputed circumstances in which they have been said to have taken place.

The Royal Military Police's Special Investigation Branch (SIB) conducted the original investigations into all four Deepcut deaths. Following its own internal inquiries, the army originally classified all four deaths as 'intentional and self-inflicted'. However, two of the three inquests so far held in these deaths returned 'open' verdicts; while a verdict of suicide was returned by the inquest in the remaining one.

A number of the bereaved families have reported concerns to Amnesty International about the initial investigations into the deaths of their relatives conducted by the SIB, alleging that they were severely flawed. As a result, some families have called for those responsible for the mishandling of such investigations to be brought to book.

Amnesty International said: 'Justice must be delivered to these families, but it must also be seen to be delivered. Closed-door investigations into the army by the army will not suffice. Investigations must be thorough, independent and impartial and be seen to be so.'

Amnesty International's report points out that even in cases where the cause of death is not disputed, relatives have been left with the impression that the Armed Forces have closed ranks against them. Such an impression has inevitably helped undermine public confidence in the UK Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence.

The organisation continued: 'The UK authorities must heed the call of many families of members of the Armed Forces for a wide-ranging public inquiry, in order to re-establish public confidence that justice and truth have been delivered.'

Amnesty International's report comes as a number of similar incidents at other army barracks around the UK have begun to emerge. Since 1994, a total of 23 soldiers have died at Catterick barracks as a result of peacetime incidents. Families of recruits based at this and other barracks allege racial and sectarian abuse, rape and intimidation.

Amnesty International concluded: 'There is a growing perception and concern that the Army's internal complaints procedure has been unable to address a culture of systematic bullying that continues to threaten the lives of young recruits. A full public inquiry needs to determine the circumstances surrounding these deaths, including whether the culture, systems and procedures of the Armed Forces have in any way contributed to fatalities.'

The campaign for a full public inquiry into the Deepcut deaths has been led by the Deepcut families and by Kevin McNamara MP. It has expanded into a wider campaign on all non-combat deaths in disputed circumstances since 1990.

Mr McNamara said today: 'I am encouraged that 173 of my fellow Members of Parliament signed the Early Day Motion currently before the House, urging the Government to establish a tribunal of inquiry to look into these cases. Amnesty International's report will undoubtedly lend weight to the calls for a public inquiry.'

The report is available online at: http://web.amnesty.org/library/eng-gbr/reports

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