Case of Anne-Marie Ellement, the soldier who hanged herself, leads to call for watchdog
The Times, 28 Jan 13
The Government is set to create a military version of the Independent Police Complaints Commission after an investigation by The Times into a soldier who hanged herself after claiming that she had been raped. Proposals for external scrutiny of the three military police services are also in response to a lawsuit by scores of former Iraqi detainees who claim that they were tortured by UK troops.
Anne-Marie Ellement, a Royal Military Police (RMP) officer, wrote justice is s*** when two fellow redcaps were cleared in January 2010 of her alleged rape. Her claim that the men had attacked her two months earlier when she was drunk was rejected after an RMP investigation. The young woman, regarded as a promising police officer, killed herself outside her barracks in Bulford in October 2011.
Internal Army documents seen by The Times reveal an awareness of the need to demonstrate that investigations into crimes involving service personnel are independent of the chain of command. The suicide of Corporal Ellement, 28, led to crystallisation of [the] issue, according to one restricted memo. It proposed an independent oversight mechanism (similar to ... IPCC model) to resolve the problem. A second document also indicated that the military police investigation into the alleged rape of Corporal Ellement had been reopened and that the file would be handed to a civilian police force after complaints that the initial inquiry was not independent.
Sharon Hardy, the dead womans sister, said that she welcomed the idea of the military police being subjected to outside oversight. The police services that uphold the law within the Army, Royal Navy and RAF have so far avoided the scrutiny that the IPCC is supposed to provide the public. I hope for the future that the RMP does have an independent body governing them and that it has no links to the chain of command, Mrs Hardy said.
Madeleine Moon, a Labour MP and member of the Defence Select Committee, is also supportive of the proposal provided that any new organisation did not purely comprise former military police. What they need is an outside eye looking in, said Mrs Moon, who is researching allegations of rape and sexual abuse within the Armed Forces.It is understood that options under consideration include using the existing IPCC or a similar body to oversee certain cases involving the three branches of the service police.
The Times this month revealed a litany of concerns about alleged failings within the militarys system of justice, from its ability to tackle minor offences to serious crimes and the limited avenue of redress for servicemen and women who believe that they have been dealt with unfairly.
Liberty, a human rights group that is supporting Corporal Ellements family, told Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, in a letter that it did not believe the original police investigation was compliant with human rights laws. Under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights any investigation into an allegation of rape must be conducted independently. A second inquest is expected to take place next year after Corporal Ellements family raised concerns about the first hearing last March. The MoD believes that the inquest will be very difficult and will likely lead to criticism of the department, according to another internal memo. A separate challenge to the way that the military dishes out justice is also causing concern.
More than 140 Iraqis are pushing for a public inquiry into allegations of torture and abuse of detainees by British forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. MoD lawyers must demonstrate that a team set up to investigate claims is independent of the chain of command when the lawsuit returns to the High Court tomorrow. A memo voiced the need for external oversight in the form of an IPCC to give the Armys detention branch which was part of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team but was also involved in detaining Iraqis the ability to conduct investigations that comply with human rights laws.
A nightmare. I was raped by two guys I work with
When Anne-Marie Ellement, a 28-year-old corporal in the Royal Military Police, angrily dashed off a series of e-mails to a friend on a January afternoon, she had no idea that her heated words might change the system of military justice. Corporal Ellement was distraught. She said she had been raped by two of her colleagues while she was drunk and described the incident as a nightmare. But the nightmare, which would eventually drive her to take her own life, was about to get worse.
In late 2009, Corporal Ellement had gone out drinking with two male colleagues. She was trained in Thai boxing and had worked as a door supervisor in nightclubs. In the words of her sister, Sharon Hardy: She probably felt safe drinking with the two male soldiers as she thought she could handle herself. But in e-mails after the night out, Corporal Ellement told a friend: Im having a nightmare. I was raped by two guys I work with, when I was drunk. They admitted to stuff I couldnt even remember, I came back out of my face . . . with nothing on but a cardigan, no jeans nothing, as I had run away.
The people to whom she reported the alleged rape were the Royal Military Police (RMP), her own unit which investigates crimes in the Army. The complainant, both the alleged perpetrators and the investigators were all in the RMP. About seven weeks after the alleged attack, the Service Prosecuting Authority judged there was no realistic chance of conviction. The Service Prosecuting Authority is independent of the RMP but the Special Investigations Branch, whose role was to gather the evidence, is not. Two men who she said had stripped her, raped her and lied about it, were all set, in her view, to escape punishment for a terrible and humiliating crime.
Corporal Ellement e-mailed her friend: The fact that people who are [meant] to uphold the law are beyond reproach of it makes me sick, Ive gone through all this for nothing. The bastards have got away with it as the prosecuting service said there wasnt enough evidence.
Ive had pretty much a total meltdown here . . . I cant stay RMP as they are. Justice is s***. Corporal Ellement was granted a compassionate job move. Later, she met a senior prosecuting officer who explained the decision to bring no charges. She said that she accepted the reasons for their judgment, the Army memo said. However, Corporal Ellements own e-mails to her friend suggest otherwise.
The alleged failure of the RMP to find enough evidence to bring a prosecution not only left her with a sense of injustice and betrayal, she also had a new misery: she claimed that her former friends and colleagues turned on her, believing that she had made a false accusation of rape which could have destroyed two colleagues lives. She said that she found herself isolated by other soldiers. They are all giving me hell, she e-mailed her friend. The fact Ive got f*** all friends, no family ... here is hell. Im just living in my room as I cant come out due to the grief Im getting from the girls. She later wrote: Just to cover up the RMP indiscretions, people get away with anything.
Corporal Ellement moved to Bulford camp, in Wiltshire, in March 2010. She was referred to the Department for Community Mental Health and interviewed by a psychiatric nurse, the Army note said. Corporal Ellement seemed happy at her new unit and our records indicate that no further appointments were arranged. In reality, as The Times reported last year, all was far from well at her new posting. The rape allegation became known on camp and the bullying resumed. One redcap recalled overhearing a male soldier telling the story: I heard him say she was a bitch and that she had ruined his best mates life by crying rape.
Corporal Ellement said that she found herself overwhelmed by work, needed time off with stress and was prescribed antidepressants and sleeping tablets. In Mrs Hardys words: She never recovered from being raped. Less than two years after the alleged attack and just three days after her 30th birthday, Corporal Ellement wrote Im sorry on her mirror in lipstick, shed a few tears on the fire escape near her room, and hanged herself. Her body was found outside her barracks headquarters. The Army briefing note said on October 9 2011, tragically, she committed suicide at her Barracks. But rewind several years and there was no sign of the woman on antidepressants failing to cope with her miserable predicament. The 25-year-old Anne-Marie Ellement was ecstatic when she signed up for the RMP. She was fulfilling a lifelong ambition by following her familys military tradition.
The rape investigation is being reopened after concerns that it was not sufficiently independent. Mrs Hardy and another sister, Khristina Swain, have led the fight for justice. An inquest last year into the death concluded that she committed suicide but her sisters felt that the hearing failed to address the role of the military leading up to her decision. The High Court has ordered a fresh inquest, and a pre-inquest hearing was held last week. Four commanding officers could be called to give evidence. The family of Corporal Ellement said that dozens of serving and former soldiers could be called as witnesses.
A right denied only to military personnel
The military is realising that its centuries-old system of internal justice is insufficient to meet todays requirements for an independent investigation or trial within a reasonable period of time.
This fundamental right, part of a modern democracy, is something that servicemen and women risk their lives to uphold when they are sent to fight overseas on behalf of our Government. So it is ironic that military personnel are the only people in Britain not automatically afforded such independent hearings and investigations if desired.
The Royal Military Police are highly skilled and competent, with a reputation for professional honesty and integrity. The case of Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement, in the words of the military itself, led to a crystallisation of the potential problems of looking into alleged crimes that involve fellow service police personnel.
No one is suggesting that there is a culture of cover-up. The issue is the absence of independent oversight, which rightly or wrongly creates the perception of unfairness. The Ministry of Defence faces the same dilemma over claims of abuse of Iraqi detainees by British soldiers in Iraq.
Asking the Independent Police Complaints Commission to step in when concerns arise over a criminal investigation by the Armed Forces or creating a military version of the watchdog would help to address the perception that large parts of the military justice system escape the external scrutiny that is commonplace in civilian life.
Evidence that the MoD is considering oversight is welcome but it is a shame that it was only initiated after the allegations of abuse by Iraqi detainees and the lonely death of a military policewoman.