Army ‘failing to deal with bullying’ after soldier took his own life months after making complaint

The army is still failing to deal with serious bullying complaints by soldiers, a specialist lawyer has said, after the latest suicide of a recruit.

Lance Corporal Joel Robinson, of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, died of suicide in 2019, seven months after making a formal complaint that he was being bullied and victimized.

His mother, Angela Robinson, told his inquest her son had felt “worthless” after being repeatedly passed over for promotion after raising a bullying complaint, which exacerbated his mental health problems.

He had been left feeling lonely and depressed by harassment, victimization and humiliation, the hearing was told last year.

Lawyer Emma Norton, director of the Center for Military Justice, told the BBC: “Joel’s experience is sadly not isolated and is reflected in a lot of our casework.

“While the army likes to state publicly that it welcomes complaints, the reality is a far cry from that and complainants are all too often seen as trouble-makers, or the cause of their own problems, and treated with a lack of sympathy and respect. .

“That is why there have been repeated calls for the handling of these kinds of serious complaints to be taken away from the services themselves and handled by a central MoD [Ministry of Defence] authority.”

The army has been at the center of a string of scandals involving bullying and harassment for decades.

Four soldiers died at Deepcut barracks in Surrey in controversial circumstances between 1995 and 2002, prompting their families to mount vocal campaigns over what they saw as a culture of vicious physical and mental intimidation.

A 2006 review concluded that recruits had experienced “harassment, discrimination and oppressive behaviour” at Deepcut.

The report, by an independent QC, concluded that it was likely that the deaths were self-inflicted, but criticized the training center suggesting its culture may have played a role in the suicides, including “a systemic failure of the means for complaint within the barracks”.

An Army Board of Inquiry returned open verdicts on the four.

The army has insisted, both in its response to the coroner’s recommendations and to Mrs Robinson, that it had no record of L Cpl’s complaints before the 24-year-old died at Combermere Barracks in Windsor.

But his mother told the BBC her son also sent her a copy, which she showed at his inquest in November.

And senior officers told the inquest that they had seen his letter of complaint and taken steps to deal with the matter informally.

“I was assured by the army in the immediate aftermath of his death that there was no record of any bullying – this was fundamentally untrue,” Ms Robinson said.

Her son was discouraged from pursuing his complaint because it could have harmed his prospects, she said, adding: “I think that if his complaint had been dealt with properly, things might have turned out differently for my son.”

Senior coroner Heidi Connor said: “It appears that those involved in the complaint that Joel raised were wholly or mostly unaware of the appropriate procedure.”

She issued a series of recommendations to prevent future deaths including a regular review to screen soldiers’ mental health.

In response to the inquest’s report, the MoD said at the time that suicide prevention was now a “priority health theme” and promised a detailed plan would be produced by this summer. It has again said it will review the report and respond in time.

Between 2002 and 2021, a total of 285 suicides were recorded among UK regular armed forces personnel – 264 men and 21 women – official figures show.

The services had 198 complaints of bullying, harassment or discrimination in 2020, with the Army having the highest rates.

The deaths of seven armed forces personnel last year were found by a coroner to be suicide.

An additional 22 deaths last year may also result in a suicide verdict once coroner inquests are held, the MoD said.

Ms Norton said an MoD plan based on a 2019 review, to have a central authority deal with complaints, appeared to have been “quietly shelved”.

“Despite initially saying it would accept that recommendation, the MoD later rolled back and rejected it, choosing instead to allow the services to keep marking their own homework,” she said.

Another soldier, who wished to remain anonymous, told the BBC how she also suffered bullying and isolation after complaining about sexism.

She said: “I found myself the subject of all sorts of unfair criticisms – criticisms that had never been made against me before – and I was bullied by my chain of command and became increasingly isolated.

“At times I can say that I have felt utterly alone and desperate and have had some really dark thoughts of self-harm or even suicide.”

On L Cpl Robinson, a MoD spokesperson said: “The death of Lance Corporal Joel Robinson was a tragedy, and our sympathies remain with his family and friends.

“We are grateful for the coroner’s observations. We will review the areas identified and provide a full response in due course.”

On culture in the army, they said: “We do not tolerate any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination, and anyone who falls short of our high standards of behavior is dealt with robustly. There is no room for any form of discrimination in the military.

“We have made lots of progress on diversity and inclusion. However, much more needs to be done. We are committed to improving the experience for everyone in the armed forces in every area of ​​their lives.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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