Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1000
TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001 (Morning sitting)
1000. I accept the point you make, particularly
given our impression just talking to members of the Parachute
Regiment who have recently returned from Sierra Leone about the
fierce loyalty that develops amongst members of a platoon. Can
I pick up on the incidence of absence without leave for under
18s, and the issue of statistics? I understand that it certainly
used to be the case that there was a regular punishment return
completed which analysed the numbers of offences and types of
offences, and that that used to include absence without leave.
Is that correct? If so, does it still continue, and, in that case,
is it possible say on an annual basis to compile the absence without
leave statistics? Would there be a distinction between those for
under-18s and those for over-18s?
(Mr Miller) It would probably be possible to extract
the information about the total numbers of absence without leave
from the punishment returns, give or take slight problems over
matters of timing. The question is do you count the offence from
the point at which the individual goes absent or the point at
which he is brought to trial. Given that sort of problem, however,
we could no doubt extract some sort of figure. I would not, though,
expect to be able to distinguish between the under 18s and the
(Brigadier Cottam) As I mentioned earlier, certainly
in the case of the Army, there is the Office for Standards of
Casework, and it is in the Army that there is more absence admittedly
than in the other Servicesperhaps because of the nature
of our duties. That Office will, however, give us a much better
feelreally total visibilityof both the cases that
we are handling in order to handle them administratively more
swiftly which would drive down delay and, at the same time, to
give us the sort of visibility that I sense from your questions
you would wish us to have. But we will not have that to the extent
you wish in the very short term. It will take a while for us to
achieve just the position that we would also like to have.
Chairman: One of the things I would just
say, picking up on the counselling point, is that we were all
impressed when we were in Cyprus talking to members of the King's
Own Scottish Borderers about the efforts they were making to prevent,
to deal with, good morale and prevent people either being inclined
to go absent without leave or commit other offences. I must admit
it surprised me somewhat but I was also impressed by the fact
that the regimental Sergeant Major, who I confess as a member
of the public I had always seen as a somewhat intimidating person,
had nevertheless innovatively taken on the role of regularly trying
to sit down and chat to members of the battalion and identify
what really perhaps encouraged them at times to think of staying
out longer than they were supposed to, and the battalion had then
looked at how it could deal with that and prevent absence and
other possible disciplinary measures in the first place by adopting
friendly personnel policies, if you like. I was very impressed
by the efforts of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, who we met,
to try and deal with the temptations that are inevitably present
in somewhere like Cyprus for individuals to stay out longer than
they are supposed to.
1001. Not having a Service background, can I
understand this, absence without leave is basically not coming
backextending unauthorised leave rather than leaving with
a view not to coming back at all. That would be desertion, would
(Mr Miller) Yes. Desertion is leaving without intending
to come back. Is there still a time limit to absence without leave?
(Brigadier Cottam) The distinction generally made
is the burden of proof resting on whether or not the soldier,
in the case of the Army, has shown a definite intention not to
return. That might be related to time but it might also be related
to what they have, in fact, gone and doneperhaps found
themselves employment, moved to another country or whateverso
it is not simply a matter of calculation in time in order to make
that distinction. In general, absent without leave is being absent
from your place of duty when you should have been there and knew
you should have been there in whatever circumstances arise.
1002. When we heard from At Ease, one of the
statements made rather provocatively by the Slovenian defence
minister accused our youngsters of "running away". Absence
without leave might be that they just decided they were not coming
back on a Sunday but possibly a Monday or Tuesday, and the implication
that there was mass desertion by under-18s would be totally out
(Mr Miller) If I may say so, I thought this Committee
made it fairly clear what they thought of that part of the evidence!
A pretty high proportion of absent without leave cases in all
three Services are individuals who frankly missed the last train
and are only an hour or two adrift, or something like that.
1003. Are there any final points you want to
make Mr Miller or Brigadier Cottam?
(Mr Miller) No, thank you very much.
Chairman: Then thank you very much indeed
for all the assistance you have given us and for the very useful
evidence that we have been able to take from you, and thank you
very much for the work that you and your staff and personnel do
all the year round.