Steven Woolfe is an independent MEP for North West England
One of our most celebrated soldiers, Major Robert Campbell, faces the prospect of being dragged before an inquiry team for the eighth time for the same allegation, despite being cleared time and time again. After the last investigation, the officer was assured his ordeal was finally over and he was recently awarded a long service and good conduct medal.
Major Campbell, who is now disabled after being injured in service in Afghanistan, was first cleared of the manslaughter of an Iraqi teenager 12 years ago. Since then he has been repeatedly hauled back before different investigation committees in what must feel like a never-ending attempt to pin the blame on him.
It is the duty of our Government and the Ministry of Defence to protect our military and veterans. Through the Military Covenant, the Government has always promised to ensure that that those who serve or have served, and their families, are treated fairly. David Cameron should be praised for taking the Military Covenant seriously – even if his promise to enshrine it in law was never followed through.
But words are empty if they are not backed up with action – and I worry that this latest news shows the Government’s commitment to the military only goes so deep. Despite Major Campbell putting his life on the line for this country, we have provided him with 15 years of uncertainty. We have made it impossible for Major Campbell to return to a normal family life, and now this uncertainty is only likely to continue.
To make matters worse, the original investigations were driven by a discredited lawyer, Phil Shiner, who has since been struck off for bringing false accusations against our soldiers. Shiner was found to be paying ‘sweeteners’ to informants to change their evidence. This is not someone we can trust.
The Government should intervene and stop this new action by the Iraq Fatality Investigations (IFI) unit immediately. There are many MPs on the Conservative benches, such as Johnny Mercer, Tom Tugendhat, and Leo Docherty, who are valiantly fighting for it to be halted. But I think we should go further than that too: we also need to rethink our approach to many of these cases, which have turned into public “witch hunts” carried out using taxpayers’ money.
As Major Campbell has pointed out, it is the Government itself which is funding these cases. In fact, the MoD has paid more than £100 million to human rights lawyers like Phil Shiner over the years, and this latest investigation is expected to cost the MoD £200,000 more. There comes a time when further investigations must cease. The MoD should review both how the IFI is acting and introduce safeguards to ensure that it is not bring spurious cases over and again.
While, as a barrister, I am the first to say that all allegations must be fully and properly investigated, there is a time when we must draw a line under accusations – and a time when further investigations must be viewed with suspicion and halted. When you get to the point where someone has been investigated seven times, an eighth time must, surely, look like it’s fed more by a vindictive and cowardly anti-military cabal than by honesty and fact.
Certain sections of British society – like the militant left – will always side against our military, it goes with the territory, but what is more alarming to me in this case is the fact that the MoD has not been more outspoken in fighting back against these vicious allegations. It begs the question: why are they not doing more to protect and defend their own people?
Where will this end?
If the MoD constantly sends out the signal that they’re willing to allow any investigation under any circumstances without a fight, this can only lead to mass demoralisation amongst our service personnel and could eventually affect this country’s ability to defend itself. Which soldier will act first in a war zone if they’re worried they might spend the next 15 years under investigation? The MoD needs to take a hard look at itself – it should say that they will stand up for our military.
Sadly, I think that this is only the latest example of the mistreatment of our veterans at the hands of the state. More than 7,000 ex-serviceman and women are currently living homeless on our streets, many of them suffering from mental health problems including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by their time in uniform. Care is woefully inadequate with veterans having to wait up to two years for treatment via Government-approved schemes.
At the same time, since 2015, the Government has announced the closure or sell-off of more than 90 military sites, including the Royal Marines Condor Airfield in Scotland, Cawdor Barracks in Wales, and Cavalry Barracks in London. At a time when so many of our veterans need housing, how can it make sense to sell off these sites to developers who will likely knock them down to build housing estates? Wouldn’t it make more sense to repurpose these sites as housing and specialist facilities for our veterans?
It’s time to start fighting back. The MoD is treating these men appalling. They have lost the respect of many and it’s time we started acting like we accept the responsibility we have for looking after our own brave military personnel.