Defence secretary to meet Army chiefs over culture concerns

Defence secretary to meet Army chiefs over culture concerns

 

A meeting of senior Army leaders will be chaired by the defence secretary later to address issues relating to the Army’s culture and discipline.

Ben Wallace said the issues, including concerns about the sexual harassment of women, were “not acceptable”.

It also follows claims that British soldiers may have been involved in the murder of a Kenyan woman in 2012.

An Army spokesman said Mr Wallace was working with Army leaders to “drive out unacceptable behaviour at all levels”.

The defence secretary told the BBC it was “really important we get the culture right” in the Army.

Mr Wallace has promised to address concerns highlighted by a report led by backbench Conservative MP and former soldier Sarah Atherton on bullying and sexual harassment faced by women in the armed forces.

The report from the Commons defence committee found that almost two thirds of the 4,000 women who gave evidence had experienced bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination during their time in the armed forces, including “truly shocking evidence” of rape and sex for promotion or advancement.

Meanwhile, an inquest into the death of a female recruit at the Army’s Officer Training Academy at Sandhurst in 2019 has raised questions about the care given to vulnerable women.

Mr Wallace will raise the case of Agnes Wanjiru, a Kenyan woman who died in 2012. She was last seen in the company of two British soldiers and Kenyan magistrate Njeri Thuku concluded after an inquest in 2019 that Ms Wanjiru had been murdered by one or two British soldiers.

Mr Wallace said “contrary to media reporting”, he, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office had provided help to the Kenyan authorities with their investigation.

He said the Ministry of Defence had given the names of British soldiers in Kenya at the time nine years ago, but he said the UK was unable to conduct a separate investigation when it fell under Kenya’s jurisdiction.

It comes as ministers have expressed frustration about delays to the Army’s new Ajax Armoured Vehicle programme. More than £3.2bn has already been spent but only a few dozen of the 589 vehicles have been delivered – and trials have had to be suspended twice over health and safety concerns.

Mr Wallace said: “I’ve asked [the Army] to make sure about how we’re going to deal with the issues ranging from Ajax and the culture in the Army – to some of the discipline issues we’ve all been seeing recently.

“It’s not acceptable and we’ll have a discussion about what are the next steps.”

An Army spokesperson said the Army board was due to meet Mr Wallace “in order to address several issues which are at the heart of the Army’s reputation and capability”.

“The secretary of state is determined to work with the Army’s leadership to drive out unacceptable behaviour at all levels, particularly with respect to the treatment of women,” the spokesman said.

“The Army’s core value of respect for others must underpin everything it delivers on behalf of the nation, whether in the United Kingdom or operating around the world.”

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