Bullying in the armed forces
90. In its Concluding Observations, the UN Committee
Against Torture expressed concern at "reports of incidents
of bullying followed by self-harm and suicide in the armed forces,
and the need for full public inquiry into these incidents and
adequate preventive measures".
91. Serious incidents of bullying in the armed forces,
such as those which are alleged to have led to suicides at Deepcut
barracks, may raise issues of inhuman and degrading treatment
contrary to Article 16 UNCAT. Four soldiers died at Deepcut between
1995 and 2003. Following an open verdict in one of the cases on
11 March 2006, the Coroner is reported to have stated that the
Ministry of Defence should take further steps to restore public
confidence in the barracks, including if necessary by a public
for a public inquiry into the allegations have not been accepted
by the Government, but an independent review, led by Nicholas
Blake QC, was established in December 2004. Its terms of reference
Urgently to review the circumstances surrounding
the deaths of four soldiers at Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut
between 1995 and 2002 in light of available material and any representations
that might be made in this regard, and to produce a report.
92. The Blake Review reported in March 2006.
On the question of whether a full public inquiry into the immediate
or broader circumstances surrounding the deaths at Deepcut should
be held, the review concluded that this was not necessary.
This conclusion accorded with the view previously expressed by
the House of Commons Defence Committee,
and in his statement to the Commons on 29 March Mr Ingram said
that he concurred with it.
He also emphasised his intention to deal with the issues raised
by the review and to provide a formal written response to its
93. We note the Blake Review's conclusion that in
only one of the three deaths reviewed, that of Sean Benton, might
bullying or over-harsh discipline have played any role in undermining
the morale of the trainee, and that there is insufficient reliable
evidence to conclude that it did so.
On the other hand, we also note the Review's statement that evidence
obtained by Surrey Police and the Review suggests that between
1995 and 2002 a number of trainees at Deepcut had experienced,
or claimed to have experienced, harassment, discrimination and
94. From our immediate perspective of examining
the Government's compliance with its obligations under UNCAT,
we consider that there is no need for a full public inquiry into
the circumstances of the deaths at Deepcut in order to meet those
obligations, and we therefore agree with the recommendations of
the Blake Review and the House of Commons Defence Committee on
the matter. We note with interest the recommendation made both
by the Review and by the Defence Committee that a Commissioner
of Military Complaints (Armed Forces Ombudsman) should be established
to provide independent supervision of the discipline and complaints
system, and we will consider this matter further when we scrutinise
the Armed Forces Bill currently before Parliament.