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|Betrayal of a war hero|
Betrayal of a war hero: Why did the Army pursue Para through the courts for two years at a cost of £300,000... just for stopping a Taliban suspect fleeing?
A paratrooper who was dragged through the military courts for hitting a Taliban suspect – in a case that cost more than £300,000 – was finally cleared yesterday.
A judge threw out the Army’s case after describing the evidence against the soldier as ‘weak and tenuous’.
The alleged victim couldn’t even be bothered to turn up.
The 31-year-old defendant, known only as Corporal C, punched the prisoner once in the face as he interrogated him in Helmand Province.
The Special Forces soldier had been desperate to discover the possible location of improvised explosive devices.
Cpl C, who served for nine years before quitting in disgust at his treatment, admitted hitting the captive, whom he insists was trying to escape.
But the military refused to drop the case – even though the captive, Ahmed Wali, did not want to make a formal complaint, and there were no witnesses to the incident.
The case is estimated to have cost the taxpayer more than £300,000 and it plunged the military into a political correctness row.
The Service Prosecuting Authority even paid tens of thousands of pounds to retain Sarah Whitehouse, one of the country’s most eminent barristers, to fight its case.
Last night Tory MP and former infantry officer Patrick Mercer said: ‘I always thought that Cpl C had acted with remarkable courage, restraint and professionalism in the circumstances.
‘He was operating deep in enemy territory with a real threat of losing life and limb. Now it seems that a judge has finally agreed.
‘This has been a scandalous waste of public money and it is dreadful that a good soldier has had to live with the threat of this hanging over him for so long’
Patrick Mercer, Tory MP and former infantry officer
‘This has been a scandalous waste of public money and it is dreadful that a good soldier has had to live with the threat of this hanging over him for so long. It seems political correctness has been put ahead of the welfare of our troops.’
Cpl C, who is originally from Glasgow, had spent nearly two-and-a-half years with the charge hanging over him.
But Judge Advocate Alistair McGrigor, sitting at the Portsmouth Naval Base court martial centre, yesterday slung out the case halfway through the hearing.
He said: ‘My ruling is that the prosecution case is so tenuous and so weak that I will stop the trial at this stage.’
Last year three judges, asked to review the evidence at the Court Martial Appeal Court in London, branded the case ‘unfortunate’ saying it was a ‘large hammer (to deal) with a relatively minor matter’.
Cpl C, who had risked his life serving with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, was a qualified tactical questioner when the incident happened on March 1, 2010.
He was section commander of a joint British and Afghan patrol which set up a vehicle checkpoint in Babaji, a Taliban stronghold strewn with IEDs.
The patrol, which had been on duty for eight hours, was aware that insurgents were planning a vicious attack and had faced a near constant barrage of small arms fire.
The court martial was told that at about 10am, the patrol stopped a motorbike carrying two men who were ‘acting suspiciously’.
British troops believed they were acting as ‘dickers’ – spotters – for Taliban fighters. As a member of the Afghan Territorial Force waded across a canal to approach the men, the rider pulled out a pistol and pointed it at him.
The insurgent was shot and Wali, the pillion passenger, was taken into a nearby compound for questioning. The prisoner was held in plastic handcuffs and made to squat – standard Army practice – during the interview.
Wali, who was carrying a list containing the names of senior Taliban, was left alone with Cpl C for about a minute while an interpreter and another serviceman were called away. When they returned, they found Wali had ‘a swollen lip and blood on his face’.
When questioned by the Royal Military Police, Cpl C said he punched Wali as insurgents were firing at the compound and laying down IEDs. Explaining that the pair were squatting about one foot from each other, Cpl C said Wali had suddenly raised his arms.
He responded by striking out with his left fist. He said: ‘I thought he was going to hit me or run away, or worse-case scenario he could have taken my weapon off me. At that time I thought it was the correct decision.’
Cpl C, who has seen close comrades killed and injured in battle, added that he was carrying his full kit and could have easily been pushed over by the detainee. Mark Aldred, defending, said the soldier’s action was ‘a proportionate response to a perceived risk’.
He added: ‘This is of course Afghanistan. In the context of what goes on there, the fact that a detainee made a brief attempt to escape and was being faced with minor force would barely register on the Richter scale.’
Miss Whitehouse, prosecuting, said the Army doubted Cpl C’s claim that he acted in self-defence because he did not mention the Afghan’s escape bid until he was formally interviewed by the Royal Military Police three months later.
It also emerged during legal arguments that Wali did not want to make a complaint against Cpl C.
After he was released, efforts to track him down in Helmand failed.
Critics believe the Army was trying to repair its reputation in the wake of the scandal over Baha Mousa, the hotel receptionist who was beaten to death by British troops in Iraq in 2003.
Last night, Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan, said: ‘I think the person who pressed for this to be brought before court martial really does need to have their very, very poor judgment questioned.
‘The judge has very quickly come to the conclusion there is no case at all to answer. It is quite right that if there are allegations of ill-treatment to prisoners they must be investigated. That is absolutely correct. But if it cannot be proved that there is evidence of wrong-doing then it is disgraceful that it goes to a court martial.
‘The soldier must have spent the last two years under terrible pressure when what he was doing was fighting for his country and putting his life on the line.
‘It appears that no one has had the common sense to look at the context, which was that he was on a battlefield in very real danger.’
Major Charles Heyman, who edits the British Army handbook, added: ‘It’s good that this case has been thrown out. It is shocking that a soldier who was doing his duty has been hauled before the courts on such flimsy evidence. Sadly this is all too familiar because there are over-zealous prosecutors who are unwilling to think anything other than the worst of our soldiers.’
Last edited by Phil Beacall