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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November, 2003, 15:48 GMT
Army bullying allegations
Newsnight investigated the allegations of dozens of soldiers who came forward claiming they had been bullied in the armed services. We put their claims to the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, General Anthony Palmer.

Warning: Text and video link contains strong language.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
I put the points raised in the film to the man in charge of the way the MoD treats its staff, the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff General Anthony Palmer. I asked him if he accepted that bullying was a problem.

GENERAL ANTHONY PALMER: (Deputy Chief Defence Staff)
I don't accept there is a bullying problem. I think there is a question of perspective here. We have trained about 28,000 people every year and there are about 220,000 in the armed forces. The vast majority of them have very positive experiences, both in training and subsequently when they get on to serve in their units. And I think that is being demonstrated by operational success over the last ten years, most notably recently in Iraq. However, it is undeniable that there are cases of bullying in the army but they have to be seen in the overall context of the size of the army and the number of bullying instances that there are.

PAXMAN:
But they are clearly not just isolated cases, are they. According to your own survey, 43% of those questioned, a sample of 2,000 service personnel, said bullying was a problem. 5% reported they had been victims of it.

PALMER:
Well, we're currently investigating about 75 cases from last year.

PAXMAN:
But these are thousands of cases?

PALMER:
Well, I don't believe that there are...

PAXMAN:
Is the survey wrong?

PAXMAN:
No. What we've done is we've put in place the procedures that people can make complaints about bullies and bullying. And we very much encourage not only them, the people who feel bullied but their friends and comrades too, report these cases and we investigate them and we deal with them.

PAXMAN:
OK, we'll come to the procedures in a moment. But 43% of people questioned, your own people, your own survey, say bullying is a problem. That is not just isolated instances is it?

PALMER:
Well, I would agree it is not isolated instances. But I would have to unpack some of those statistics and look at specific incidents in order to give you a view as to exactly how important people are regarding a form of bullying.

PAXMAN:
How many people have been disciplined for bullying in the last three years?

PALMER:
There are people being disciplined as we speak today.

PAXMAN:
How many?

PALMER:
Well, at the moment there are about 30 people who are being actively disciplined for offences involving harassment and bullying.

PAXMAN:
Do you say that 30 people being investigated for bullying or harassment in an organisation of what, the best part of 200,000 people, anything like gets near tackling the whole problem?

PALMER:
I certainly believe it does, yes. Because I have confidence in our procedures, I have confidence in the fact that people are able to report bullies and that these people do get investigated and they do get brought, they do get disciplined.

PAXMAN:
Isn't the much more common experience that of one of the people that we spoke to, who was seriously beaten up, had people defecate in his bed, urinate in his bed, and when he complained about it to his regimental Sergeant Major, he was told: "F*** off, this is the army."

PALMER:
Well, no, I absolutely refute that. That sounds to me a completely exceptional case, and if you let me know the details, we will certainly ensure it is investigated. I come back to my point, that the overwhelming number of people, and you've seen them yourself, and so have your reporters and colleagues when they've been on operations, they have the most fantastic reputation, and I do not believe that if the bullying was to the extent you say it is, within the training organisation, that they would have performed the way they have.

PAXMAN:
No-one is questioning the reputation of the British Army as soldiers. They are merely concerned about what is a problem for some people within the armed services. Now you mentioned the investigative mechanisms. Isn't it entirely inadequate that the people doing the investigating are part of the same chain of command as those who do the bullying?

PALMER:
No, I mean the police do the investigating, the special investigation branch, which is part of the armed forces admittedly, but it is independent and carries out proper police procedures.

PAXMAN:
If we look at a slightly older age group, those who are coming up to be suggested, perhaps, that it was time they moved on before they went on to their 22 years, is it acceptable for a soldier to be called in to see his CO, and for the CO to, without looking at him, just tell him to sign a piece of paper and the man then to have no recourse afterwards? I mean that...

PALMER:
It is totally unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. And I would say that it happens, if it did happen, and we will investigate it, but it would be in a tiny proportion of cases.

PAXMAN:
General, thank you.


This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.



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