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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
AWOL couple sentenced
Heidi Cochrane
Heidi Cochrane featured in Army recruitment
Two soldiers who fell in love and went absent without leave for seven months have been sentenced to detention and demoted by a court martial.

Lance Bombardier Heidi Cochrane, 25, and Sergeant Jason Archer, 30, who were both married, ran away from a Cyprus army camp together in July last year.

The couple had begun an affair while serving with the 16 Regiment Royal Artillery.

They were taken into custody after they gave themselves up at the Goojerat Barracks at Colchester Garrison, Essex, in February.

Being absent without leave affects the very fabric of any part of the services and its ability to carry out its duties

Judge Advocate Edmund Moelwyn-Hughes

The pair were marched into the courtroom at Aldershot barracks and spoke only to confirm their ranks, names and to plead guilty to being absent without leave for 209 days.

Lieutenant Colonel Susan Ridge, for the prosecution, told the court that Cochrane and Archer were part of a UN operational tour that had been deployed to Cyprus in May 2000.

They had been discovered missing on 30 July 2000 after failing to report for duty.

The couple voluntarily handed themselves in to military authorities at Colchester on 24 February 2001.

Sergeant Jason Archer
Sergeant Archer faces six months detention
Their flight across Europe had included time in Wales and Holland.

Defending, Mark Haslam said: "If they had the power to turn the clock back they would undoubtedly have done things differently."

He said the couple had become "disappointed, disillusioned and depressed" about their positions in the Army.

He said: "They used each other as a shoulder to cry on in terms of sharing their respective difficulties.

"They had a number of matrimonial, personal and military difficulties to discuss.

Deterrent sentence

"The ultimate decision they made was theirs and theirs alone and it was wrong."

Judge Advocate Edmund Moelwyn-Hughes ordered that they should be detained at Colchester Barracks.

Sergeant Jason Archer and Lance Bombadier Heidi Cochrane
The pair were both married before going AWOL
He said: "A deterrent sentence is called for.

"Being absent without leave affects the very fabric of any part of the services and its ability to carry out its duties."

Cochrane was ordered to be detained for 112 days Archer was ordered to be held in detention for six months.

Both will be eligible for release after serving two thirds of their sentence.

They were ordered to be stripped of their ranks

The affair was an embarrassment for army chiefs as it had already issued a photograph of Ms Cochrane, with an assault rifle to promote women in the armed forces.

See also:

25 Feb 01 | UK
Army runaways in custody
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Call for fair ruling on women soldiers
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