The main UK security and news of the last week has been the Government’s announcement that the Iraq Historic Abuses Inquiry (IHAT) is to be closed. The Daily Telegraph reports that the £60 million criminal investigation into British troops in Iraq is to be shut down within months after a Defence Sub-Committee (of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee) report branded IHAT “unfit for purpose” and accused the MoD of enabling law firms “to generate cases against service personnel at an industrial level”. It recommended that the organisation be shut down immediately having “directly harmed the defence of our nation”. It also accused IHAT investigators of using “intimidatory tactics”, including “deeply disturbing” methods such as impersonating the police and spying on former and current servicemen. The Sub-Committee’s report recommends that civilian investigators be excluded from future such case where at all possible.
In an unusual sequence of events, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon attempted to pre-empt the parliamentary findings – initially due to be published on Sunday – by making his own announcement that IHAT was being closed in the summer. That in turn prompted MPs to bring forward their own report to Friday afternoon. The Defence Secretary said that the MoD – rather than being criticised – should receive credit for forcing Mr Shiner and his firm Public Interest Lawyers, who were behind a great many of the false compensation claims put forward, out of business. Sir Michael also announced that Operation Northmoor, a separate investigation into alleged abuses in Afghanistan, was being scaled back dramatically. The MoD said the Royal Military Police was “set to discontinue around 90 per cent of the 675 allegations” of alleged mistreatment of Afghans. Once the IHAT inquiry is shut down, what are expected to be twenty outstanding cases will be handed over to the Royal Naval Police.
Johnny Mercer MP, Chairman of the sub-Committee inquiry, said “Throughout this process there has been an almost total disregard of the welfare of soldiers and their families. We need to hold our people in the highest esteem and a repeat of IHAT must never be allowed to happen again.” He added “The MoD must take responsibility for allowing this to happen. They could have discriminated between credible and non-credible cases yet they lacked the will to do so. They need to get on and immediately dismiss those remaining cases that are based on obviously weak evidence.”
The Sub-Committee report does not directly reference the MDP, although it does note the incident in which an IHAT investigator impersonating a police officer was arrested by MDP officers whist trying to gain access to an MoD facility.
While the report recommends the exclusion of civilian investigators from future case where possible, there are likely to be questions raised over impartiality if the Service Police are tasked with investigating their own Armed Forces branch.
- NATO defence spending target met, Government insists
- US Secretary of Defence warns NATO over spending commitments
- Met Police Commissioner calls for more trust of armed police
- Combat immunity plan will deny soldiers justice, says Law Society
- MoD denies Royal Navy attack submarines are all out of service
- Armed forces member ‘to be offered part-time role and combat exemption’
- Navy seeks senior service personnel
- Fourteen rescued by Royal Navy warship
NATO defence spending target met, Government insists
The Daily Telegraph reports that a row over defence spending has erupted after a respected think-tank said the Government was breaking its promise on spending two percent of GDP on the military budget. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said Britain’s defence spending had dipped below the NATO benchmark figure, despite the Government vowing to meet the target. The analysis comes only days after Theresa May had boasted to Donald Trump of Britain’s military spending and lectured the UK’s European allies to spend more. The calculation is likely to add to claims that the MoD used creative accountancy to say it was hitting the target.
The MoD rejected the figures, saying the think tank had got its sums wrong and NATO's own figures put the spending share at 2.21%. But the IISS said it stood by the estimate from its annual Military Balance report, which showed Britain spent 1.98% of GDP during 2016. The think tank attributed the fall to the growth of the UK’s economy.
Both the IISS and MoD figures are likely to have validity: it is, for example, possible that the MoD calculated its defence spending for 2016 on actual GDP at the beginning of 2016 and failed to incorporate the growth that occurred in that year, as the IISS did. However, the fact that the MoD is over the two percent level by such a tiny margin shows how tightly the Government is interpreting its NATO obligations.
US Secretary of Defence warns NATO over spending commitments
The Guardian reports that the new US Defence Secretary has delivered an ultimatum to NATO allies, saying they must either honour military spending pledges or face the prospect of America “moderating” its commitment to the transatlantic organisation. James Mattis issued the warning to the other 27 members of the alliance on Wednesday during a closed session at NATO headquarters in Brussels on his first visit to Europe as a senior member of Donald Trump’s cabinet.
Mr Mattis’s predecessors have made similar threats over the last decade during visits to NATO, but without the same conviction. “I owe it to you to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States, and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” he said.
Only five of the 28 members meet NATO’s target of spending at least two percent of GDP on defence: the US, the UK, Poland, Greece and Estonia. The US spends 3.6% on defence and the UK 2.2%, based on NATO figures for 2016, while Germany spends 1.1%, France 1.7%, Italy 1.1% and Spain 0.9%.
Met Police Commissioner calls for more trust of armed police
The Guardian reports that Britain’s top police officer has warned there may not be enough armed officers to fight terrorists on London’s streets if they are not given more trust. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who retires later this month as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, used his last set-piece speech to make the plea. Sir Bernard said officers are being put off volunteering for firearms roles because they dread spending years under investigation, or even being put on trial, if forced to use their weapons while on duty.
Sir Bernard told an audience at the Royal United Services’ Institute that: “When people look at what we do, there should be less suspicion and more trust.” He noted that in the wake of the Paris attacks – during which armed French officers were credited with reducing casualties – an armed officer was arrested by the IPCC after Jermaine Baker was shot dead near Wood Green crown court in London. He noted that fourteen months later, the officer’s case remains unresolved. The Commissioner also refuted claims of trigger-happy armed police officers by saying that in 2016 they were called out on 3,300 occasions without firing a shot.
However, Sir Bernard was rebuked after his speech by the Chairwoman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC). The Times reports that Dame Anne Owers criticised the retiring Metropolitan Police Commissioner, suggesting that his comments have contributed to “myths and selective facts” about police shootings. Dame Anne countered that a lack of co-operation by the police themselves was a major reason for delays. New guidance by the IPCC, proposing automatically to separate officers after shooting incidents, has also resulted in criticism that they are being treated as suspects. Dame Anne rejected the claim, saying it was to secure “necessary evidence”. She noted that of 24 firearms investigations completed since 2010, officers were treated as witnesses in 21 inquiries.
Combat immunity plan will deny soldiers justice, says Law Society
The Guardian reports that soldiers will be “shut out of justice” and military equipment failures will be covered up under plans to extend combat immunity and prevent military claims going to court, ministers have been warned. The move to channel complaints into an internal MoD compensation scheme will do away with the need to prove negligence and include more generous payments, but it has nonetheless caused deep misgivings among some service families who have campaigned to reveal flaws in Army vehicles and protective clothing.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, fears the latest proposals could stifle legitimate public debate and deny bereaved relatives access to justice. Its President, Robert Bourns, said: “Soldiers and their families must not be shut out of our justice system. The Law Society will be responding to the MoD’s consultation to raise these and other concerns.” Under the scheme, former or serving personnel who are injured – or the family of those killed – in combat will be awarded compensation “equal to that which a court would have awarded if the government had been negligent”.
MoD denies Royal Navy attack submarines are all out of service
The Daily Telegraph reports that the MoD has denied that the Royal Navy’s fleet of attack submarines are all currently out of action. Britain’s seven ‘hunter-killer’ vessels were reported to be ‘non-operational’ as they undergo repairs and maintenance. However, an MOD source told newspaper the reports were “categorically not true.” Previously, it had been reported in The Sun newspaper that all seven vessels were non-operational, with five in maintenance, one under repair after crashing into a tanker ship near Gibraltar, and one working up to operational readiness.
A Royal Navy spokesman said it did not comment on “specific submarine operations”, but added: “Britain has a world-class fleet. The Royal Navy continues to meet all of its operational tasking, deploying globally on operations and protecting our national interests as Britain steps up around the world.” The problems do not affect the Vanguard-class submarines, which carry the Trident nuclear system.
The small size of the attack submarine fleet, together with the advanced age of four of the Trafalgar-class submarines that make up the majority of the force, means that instances of low-availability will continue to plague the Royal Navy until all seven of the new Astute-class enter service. The Federation has continually highlighted in meetings with parliamentarians that a reduced number of assets enhanced their individual value and necessitates high levels of security. This is an issue we will continue to raise in upcoming parliamentary meetings.
Armed forces member ‘to be offered part-time role and combat exemption’
The Times reports that soldiers, sailors and airmen will be able to reduce their prospects of frontline deployment by lowering their hours and taking a pay cut under a MoD scheme. Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel can apply for the flexible duties trial or benefit from other schemes that can allow them to work a three-day week or take unpaid leave.
The plan notes that “Service personnel will be allowed to reduce their liability to be deployed.” It said they could take up to 93 days unpaid leave per year resulting in “an individual being able to work less than five days a week, although still liable for evening and weekend duties on paid days”. The MoD said flexible working would not affect operational effectiveness and could be revoked at any time if an individual was needed on the front line.
Navy seeks senior service personnel
The Times reports that a “Dad’s Navy” of former sailors will be recruited to fill key posts on Britain’s new £6.2 billion aircraft carriers. Shortages of skilled personnel have driven the Royal Navy to raise its normal age limit of 60 for reservists and drop the requirement that they must have served within the past five years. Sailors paid off by the MoD as part of various redundancy programmes are also being invited to apply for jobs on the new aircraft carriers and across the Royal Navy fleet. In 2015, the Royal Navy asked the MoD to provide 4,000 additional personnel but only a few hundred sailors were brought in. Despite recruitment drives and advertising, attracting and keeping recruits has proved to be a problem.
‘Ancient mariners’ will have to pass fitness tests but could be offered five-year contracts under the Navy’s full-time reserve scheme. Personnel who have previously received redundancy payments will be considered. An MoD spokesman said that “all are welcome to apply”.
Fourteen rescued by Royal Navy warship
The BBC reports that a Royal Navy warship has rescued 14 sailors who were stranded for two days in the Atlantic Ocean after their racing yacht was damaged in a storm. HMS Dragon diverted 500 miles to reach the 13 Britons and one American after the mast and rudder had broken off their yacht on Thursday. The Clyde Challenger had been en route to the UK from the Azores after a four-month trip when it was damaged.
Chemical tanker CPO Finland, aided by RAF and US Air Force planes, had tried to rescue the Clyde Challenger's crew three times, but failed due to bad weather. The owner extended a “huge thanks” to all those involved in “organising and executing the safe transfer of the crew”.