Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Saturday, 7 February 2009

'No truth' in army affair claims

Helicopter in Afghanistan (file pic)
If charged, the officer will be tried at the Old Bailey in London

A human rights campaigner is angry at being romantically linked to a British Army officer arrested in Afghanistan for allegedly leaking official secrets.

Rachel Reid, of Human Rights Watch in Afghanistan, told the BBC's Today programme there was "no relationship" between her and Lt Col Owen McNally.

She is now worried about her safety as a result of claims made about her.

The Ministry of Defence has distanced itself from any suggestions it leaked her name to the media.

Reputation

Nick Gurr, the MoD's director general for media and communication, told The Guardian in a letter on Friday: "We are not in the business of dragging anyone's reputation through the mud."

Col McNally, 48, was arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of breaching the Official Secrets Act.

But Ms Reid, 36, a former BBC radio reporter, dismissed suggestions made by some British newspapers that she had been involved in a relationship with him.

She told the Today programme on Radio 4: "We had two very innocuous meetings in the company of others.

"There was no relationship. He's the man whose job it is to monitor civilian casualties. I represent Human Rights Watch in Afghanistan and obviously one of the main themes of my work in Afghanistan is the issue of civilian casualties.

"I have regular meetings with various political and military officials about this issue and it was inevitable that at one point I would meet Col McNally.

"It is very unlikely that there was any breach of the Official Secrets Act and it's extraordinary that this story has been created."

'Unsurprising'

Ms Reid said Col McNally had in their meetings explained what Nato was doing to try to reduce civilian casualties and the work he does in trying to improve the reporting and investigation of civilian casualties.

"This is all unsurprising and what you would expect and should never have led to this," Ms Reid said.

She said she had found the attention distressing especially since she works in a country where a woman's reputation is of paramount importance.

I'm so disappointed by the behaviour of the military and the newspapers who continue to give life to this non-story
Rachel Reid
"I doubt that this would have happened to my male predecessor; the only reason this flew in the papers for the first couple of days was they could raise all this innuendo and slurs - that angers me not least because in Afghanistan a woman's reputation is of extreme importance to her security.

"It's another reason why I'm so disappointed by the behaviour of the military and the newspapers who continue to give life to this non-story."

If charged, Col McNally will face trial at the Old Bailey in London and could get a prison sentence of up to 14 years if convicted.

He joined the Army in 1977 as a private, was commissioned as an officer in 1995 and is said to be one of the service's most high-ranking former non-commissioned officers.

In 2008, HRW said civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and Nato air strikes had almost tripled to at least 1,633 between 2006 and 2007. It said it used "the most conservative figures available".

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