It Should Never Have Come To This, The Times

This was in the Times today

The Times

It Should Never Have Come To This

The inquest into the deaths of six Royal Military Policemen at Majar al-Kabir in June 2003 has failed to satisfy the families - just as the latest Deepcut Inquiry also failed to bring closure to the bereaved parents. It has been another sad day for the army with yet more evidence that the management of troops and operations fell significantly below the expected standards. Yet again the families are spitting blood at the way in which their children were treated, in this case demanding that the police investigate officers for alleged manslaughter. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of that case, most sensible people would agree that – as with Deepcut - it should never have come to this.

But what can we expect when the appalling examples of poor leadership come so thick and fast. I spent yesterday at No 1 Parachute Training School RAF Brize Norton watching Chandler Biddiss collect his Para wings. Not a lot of paratroopers have managed to do that in recent weeks, largely due to a shortage of C130 Hercules aircraft – most of them being deployed full-time ferrying troops and equipment out to Iraq and Afghanistan. Chandler didn’t need to jump out of an aircraft. He was making a sponsored decent from the 60-ft high Exit Decent trainer used to test the nerve of paratroopers before they actually jump out of an aircraft. There is of course a twist, as regular readers of this blog will know, in that Chandler is six years old, has cerebral palsy, cannot walk, is unable to talk properly and has difficulty seeing.

Yes of course to a certain extent it was a stunt, a sponsored descent to raise money for a charity that helps former paratroopers, and Chandler was caught by his father Corporal Paul Biddiss. He didn't have to land. But it was worth seeing the smile on Chandler’s face afterwards when the audience in the hanger which houses the training school erupted in applause. Hats off to the RAF and the Paras for allowing the sponsored jump to go ahead. This was a good example of decent man-management in action. The RAF freefall team, the Falcons, were also there to see Chandler awarded the coveted British Military Parachute Wings and Certificate, as were all the young para recruits on the current course, none of whom has so far managed to earn their own wings because of high winds and the lack of aircraft.

When I last wrote about Chandler I contrasted the way in which the Army has looked after Cpl Biddiss recently with the treatment that led to Chandler’s disabilities. Some asked how the army could be blamed for his sad situation so perhaps it is time to tell as much of the story as can yet be told. The Biddiss family’s problems began in November 1999 when Corporal Biddiss’s wife Debbie was six months pregnant. He had just returned from Kosovo and his battalion was preparing for a six-month tour in Northern Ireland.

The Army – under pressure to save costs – was at the time engaged in a full-scale effort to reduce the costs of its pension scheme, which provides soldiers leaving after 22 years with a pension. Under a now discredited system known as “manning control”, the Army Personnel Centre at Glasgow was sending out lists of soldiers who were either to be discharged, so they did not reach the 22-year point and a pension, or put on a different contract that would allow the army to get rid of them before they became entitled to their pension.

Since they were changing the soldier’s contract, and to his or her obvious disadvantage, they needed to persuade the soldier to sign a piece of paper agreeing to this change. They ought also to have explained all the implications. It was part of their duty of care. It was almost certainly illegal not to do so. But in a number of cases the implications were never explained and where they were, unsurprisingly, most soldiers were reluctant to make the change so had to be forced in some way to agree.

On 2 November 1999, Corporal Biddiss’s immediate commander told him he had to change his contract. Too savvy to be mugged into giving up his pension rights, he refused. He was also just a tad pee-ed off that he should be seen as someone expendable. He was an experienced junior NCO widely regarded as a good team leader who had just been recommended for the SAS selection course. He saw no reason why he should be under threat. He was precisely the sort of soldier the army didn’t want to lose.

He was repeatedly called into the commander’s office and told he had to sign. When he continued to refuse, the commander began what Debbie Biddiss described as “a campaign of harassment and victimisation against him”. Since his wife was pregnant and she had a history of difficulties in pregnancy – she had lost a baby a year earlier - Corporal Biddiss had been told that he could remain behind with the rear party to ensure he was there to support her. Now that offer was withdrawn. He would have to go to Northern Ireland.

The pressure told on his wife who went into premature labour. A week after Chandler was born, a cranial ultrasound scan showed bleeding on his brain. Despite the problems, and protests from his platoon commander that he should be allowed to stay with his wife, Corporal Biddiss was told he was still going to Northern Ireland. A month or so later, Chandler was rushed to hospital with pneumococcal meningitis and scepticaemia. Corporal Biddis was told he could not go home to help his wife unless he signed a new contract. She had four other small boys and was struggling to take them to school while trying to protect Chandler from the cold.

Eventually, Corporal Biddiss stormed into the battalion operations room in Northern Ireland and told his commander that: "If anything happens to my son, I will f*** you and this regiment." Only then did his commanders talk to the hospital, who lambasted them for not sending Corporal Biddiss home. He was on his way back to England within 15 minutes. “For the first seven days, we waited for Chandler to die,” Debbie later said. “He was saved by a blood transfusion and his fighting spirit.” Although he didn’t die, Chandler had suffered irreparable damage to his brain.

There are more details to this story, which cannot yet be told because Debbie Biddiss is writing a book on the affair. It is set to reveal an astonishing level of bullying, cover-up and incompetent behaviour by officers involved in the case. In the end, Corporal Biddiss was not forced to change his contract and yesterday was a happy day for him and his young son. It would of course be easy to write this off as an accident, to say that the whole manning control issue was a mistake, it was never meant to be run that way.

There were plenty of commanding officers who fought against the orders to “manning control” some of their best men and knew it was wrong. But there were plenty of others who just followed orders and forced good young soldiers to change their contracts or leave to save the MoD the cost of their pension. I wrote the first story on “manning control” on 29 April 2002. It was swiftly followed up by other newspapers and the MoD protested repeatedly that there was nothing wrong with the system. But when the Government was asked in October when the last incident of “manning control” took place, it said in April 2002. They knew they were acting immorally and arguably illegally and the minute they were found out they stopped it.

It was just another example of the poor management I was talking about yesterday, as of course was the situation that led to the deaths of the six military policemen. The idea that their deaths were “unavoidable” is so ludicrous that one scarcely needs to comment on it, other than to ask why it took so long for the coroner to deal with the case. One would like to believe that it wasn’t to ensure that the controversy wasn’t aired in the run-up to last year’s election when Tony Blair was being challenged in his Sedgefield constituency by Reg Keys, whose son Tom was one of those killed.

It was John Hyde, whose son Benjamin was also among those killed, who put his finger on the real cause of their deaths. Mr Hyde, who has not been so vocal as the other parents but says he is just as committed to getting to the truth, said: "With proper command and control that day and effective communication, our lads would still be here today." Mike Aston, who lost his son Russell, said that the officers involved should be held to account. "They got my son killed along with five other brave men and they deserve to answer for it,” he said. I’m bound to say that I’m not entirely sure that calling in the Metropolitan Police is the answer at this stage. But what certainly needs to be done, as I said in my Deepcut blog, is to ensure that across the board the people who lead our troops into battle are capable of doing the job properly. There are far too many now who are clearly not.
Top post, THESUNJOCK, highlighting the oftentimes totally disgraceful conduct of these rectal orifices. All the more reason for a Soldiers' Federation, since far too few people are ready to go into the ring for fair and just treatment of members of the Armed Forces.

Does anyone know what happened to the officer responsible and were those soldiers who were coerced into singing away their pension rights have them reinstated? If nothing happened justice is not being done.


If there was a Federation around at the time of the Biddiss case, the Biddiss case would never have happened and we would not be having this conversation.
fooboy said:
I don't know what a Fed would have been able to do in that situation the they faced
A small confusion. fooboy presumably you are thinking of Majar al-Kabir. Most of the Times article was about the Cpl Bidiss case and Skynet is quite right, a Federation would have made a difference.
fooboy said:
Two of the officers decided (not by themselves) :wink: that it was time to hang up the sword at a rapid rate of knotts on, but with pension intact. one other is still clinging on by his finger nails and is probably not looking forward to this book that comming out. As for manning control and getting things reinstated, just look at the Taxed War pensions. Many an old boy still waiting for the money back from MOD.
Talking of war pensions - we won't get one.

Navy have just been properly briefed on this, although I've heard nothing through my CoC. Essentially, war pensions are out, and if you don't log injuries sustained pronto, and claim within 5 years, you don't get 'owt.

Family member works for a big Services charity and is quite worries about implications.

Anyone any ideas?
fooboy said:
I don't know what a Fed would have been able to do in that situation the they faced
I feel a federation would have made a big difference, and as stated we would not be having this conversation. Also the subject of manning control and the way it was managed by higher formations for what ever reasons would have been subject to scrutiny by a federation. The abuse would have surfaced much more early then it did, and again the treatment before during and after (Redress) that Biddiss and family was subject too would have never of happened.

Food for thought
BlotBangRub said:
I am coming to the sad realisation that the Army I proudly served in, like the Police Service I also served in, is becoming increasingly morally bankrupt.
Possibly no coincidence that senior officers in both organisations seem increasingly unwilling to stand up to the politicians.
Unwilling to stand up? or just mildy desperate to share the glory of saving a few bucks and therefore enhancing their own chances of an MBE.......

Anti-Federation statements tend to fall into one of the following two categories, each of which contains an element of truth:

1. "The chain of command does everything necessary to represent its personnel."

2. "Personnel are being screwed by the system, but a Federation would make no difference".

It would save a lot of time if we could arrange for these two camps to fight it out between themselves.

It is becoming increasingly clear that those in favour of a Federation occupy the sensible, moderate, constructive position between these two extremes.


A Federation would have recognised what was happening in the early days and brought it to the notice of our tax paying public. For my part, I believe that had a Federation been in existence at that time, that the MoD would never have instigated a Manning Control measure. Do not forget that this was a very underhand and unfair measure, amounting to constructive dismissal and 'theft' of pension rights.

A Federation similar to the Police federation could have prevented that. A properly funded Federation would have been able to provide legal advice and representation for those who were subjected to Manning Control.

The only way to prove that it would work and to protect the interests of Service Personnel, is to have a Federation. As a recognised Federation gained in strength through popular support by Servicee personnel, politicians and public, it would be in a position to challenge actions such as Manning Control before it got off the floor. A stromg Federation would be respected by the MoD, maybe not agreed with, but respected.


Not at all mate. Sorry, I've since added to my post, I hadn't seen your question beforehand..

In the case of Manning Control, let's view it for what it is. It was an unfair and immoral method of saving money at the cost of soldiers pensions. Would the Civil Service have stood for it? Would the Police Service have stood for it? You cannot treat people like that. It was done in an environment where there was no representation for the soldier and also where there was no outside attention, as the public were unaware of what was happening. If a Federation existed then the whole dubious concept of Manning Control would never have taken off as the MoD would be well aware that a Fedration would challenge it and publicise what was happening. Don't knock the power of the Press. If that sort of sh*t happened in the Police Service, you would see front page news. Why should you as a soldier go unprotected?


fooboy said:
But was that not done be one soldier on his jack jones anyway, and without a Federation behind him. what you are saying is the only power a fed would have is the dreaded press
With a Fed in existence, what happens is something like this:

1. Secret orders go out from Whitehall/Glasgow/wherever ordering COs to change contracts of selected soldiers.

2. Selected soldiers are ordered in front of OCs/COs and ordered to sign new contracts.

3. A number of suspicious soldiers call free Fed helpline to ask: 'Oy, what's all this about then?'

4. Fed investigates both officially and unofficially, using contacts in Ministry, Parliament, the Freedom of Information Act and the 'old boy net' to discover what is going on.

5. Fed briefs lawyers who seek injunction against MOD; briefs press to shame the MOD.

That is a very realistic scenario: if a body like the MOD is doing something which either is, or is probably, unlawful, an organised representative body like the Armed Forces Federation can use the law and parliament to stop it. Cpl Biddiss deserves a lot of praise for toughing it out as he did, but with a Fed I doubt it would have got that far.
Look at it this way FooBoy, If one serving soldier could stand his ground as Cpl Biddis did, Stop an abuse that was saving mega bucks for ukgov, in its tracks and still be serving today. Then think what a body of men/women dedicated to helping people in similar situations could do and probably sort it out in half the time. Biddis fight went on for well over five years, due to abuse of the redress system to cover tracks and deny any liability.
Im sure some here on Arrse know all to well how the redress process in some cases is deliberately dragged out to wear the soldier down, again a Fed would be there to prevent that, and they would know it. :wink: Hence the reason why some in the C Of C are so violently against it.
Well......... Gobsmacked but not surprised. A sad story probally one of thousands over the years. Shame its got to come to this but a Federation could only be the answer.



I would imagine that a Forces Federation would also represent those who lost their jobs and pensions as a result of Manning Control and set about recovery of owed pension payments if there is a case for it. There is quite a lot a Federation can do and it can only do it if you agree its necessity and support it. Reading the groundswell, the MoD will no doubt have plans for the introduction of a 'Federation' which they can control, such is the real fear amongst it for the birth of a truly independant body. They know that it's coming and they don't like the idea.

Get behind an independant Force Federation and support it. It will be there to support you and yours when you need it.


DPM said:
fooboy said:
Two of the officers decided (not by themselves) :wink: that it was time to hang up the sword at a rapid rate of knotts on, but with pension intact. one other is still clinging on by his finger nails and is probably not looking forward to this book that comming out. As for manning control and getting things reinstated, just look at the Taxed War pensions. Many an old boy still waiting for the money back from MOD.
Talking of war pensions - we won't get one.

Navy have just been properly briefed on this, although I've heard nothing through my CoC. Essentially, war pensions are out, and if you don't log injuries sustained pronto, and claim within 5 years, you don't get 'owt.

Family member works for a big Services charity and is quite worries about implications.

Anyone any ideas?

War pensions still exist, I've just got mine through. The compensation scheme is different from war pensions.

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