Call for action after Army veteran shares horrific "bullying" ordeal
PUBLISHED: 05:30 17 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:21 17 January 2019
A Colchester veteran who claims he suffered a campaign of abuse while serving in Suffolk has launched a fight to crack down on bullying in the Army.
Mark Holder, 36, has won the support of Colchester MP Will Quince after speaking out about his experience – which he says drove him to the brink of suicide.
The former private, who served in Germany and Iraq, claims he has lost everything after suffering years of abuse from his comrades, ranging from racist remarks about his Kenyan girlfriend to cruel pranks playing on his dyslexia.
His story has now driven the Colchester MP to raise the issue with defence secretary Gavin Williamson.
Mr Holder, who now works full-time as a care worker in Colchester, says he was bullied relentlessly for seven years while serving with the Royal Logistics Corps and Military Provost Guard Service in Windsor, Colchester and Suffolk.
He was awarded £5,000 in 2017 after Army chiefs admitted he was the victim of bullying and harassment, but he said the payment was an “insult” – claiming he is owed for 20 years of lost salary.
Mr Holder said the bullying began while he was serving as a chef at Windsor in 2006, when his comrades would play cruel pranks on him – targeting him for his dyslexia.
“I knew from a young age that all I wanted to do was go into the army and be a solider, so in 2004 I joined the Army,” he said.
“The bullying started in 2006. The master chef knew that I had dyslexia. What he used to do was embarrass me by making me write out a menu for him.”
He said his comrades would make comments such as “you should be locked up in an asylum” and “the Army shouldn’t employ people with dyslexia”.
The abuse allegedly continued when Mr Holder was transferred to Colchester, and later to Wattisham.
“There was an excuse every day to pick on me,” he said.
Mr Holder claimed some of the worst abuse was directed at his Kenyan girlfriend, who was allegedly called an “HIV victim” and a “black ****”.
He said the behaviour came from all ranks – with even senior officers contributing to the abuse.
Mr Holder said things came to a head in 2013, when he became the victim of a cruel prank while posing for a group picture in Colchester.
Smiling at the camera, he would only later realise that seven of his comrades were pointing rifles at his head.
“That picture painted a thousand words,” he said.
Mr Holder said the torrent of abuse drove to the brink of suicide – but thankfully an attempt to take his own life was unsuccessful.
“The bullying got so severe I contemplated taking my own life,” he said.
“I did attempt it – I took some tablets but I woke up.”
After filing a formal complaint, Mr Holder left the Army in 2013. Now he hopes to raise awareness of what he believes to be widespread bullying and abuse.
“The public have a right to know what’s going on,” he said.
“I want everyone to know how the army and how they treat people. I would never recommend the Army to anybody.”
Mr Holder said he hopes his new job as a care worker will “make a difference for people with severe mental health problems and disabilities” – but on minimum wage he is struggling to pay the bills.
“I have lost my career. I have lost my pension. I have lost my salary,” he said.
“I am going to keep on until I get what I am owed.”
Mr Holder has since set up a petition to demand a harsher punishment on the soldiers who tormented him, which he hopes will be debated in parliament.
Meanwhile, a JustGiving page has been set up to help support the veteran following the loss of his job.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We are not prepared to comment on individual cases. The Army adheres to a strict set of values and standards in which bullying has no place.”