The Army boasts of offering an opportunity to young people to ‘Be the Best’ but it is hard to imagine that a group of school-leavers who made serious allegations about their treatment as recruits in Harrogate could have been let down in a worse way.
The 28 teenagers had complained about their treatment at the hands of 16 officers while posted to the town’s Army Foundation College. The complaints included allegations recruits aged 16 and 17 were slapped and punched in the face, spat at, grabbed by the throat and ordered to eat animal manure.
But a three-year inquiry into what happened has now collapsed following a “seriously flawed” investigation by the Royal Military Police involving problems with missing evidence and claims that witnesses were forced to make statements.
The deeply unsatisfactory situation now means the truth of the allegations has not been properly tested – an unfair situation for both the recruits and the officers who were accused.
What is clear is the potential long-term damage this will do to the military’s reputation. While joining the military by necessity involves tough training that prepares recruits for the battlefield, there is a world of difference between this and unwarranted abuse.
The British military prides itself on having the highest-possible standards in everything it does. But in future, it should be aiming to meet a much more basic one – when allegations of serious abuse and mistreatment are made, they must be investigated in a professional manner to properly establish the truth.
That simple standard has, shamefully, not been met here.