Soldiers did not refuse to fight - MoD

BRITISH authorities last night denied reports that two of their soldiers had been sent home to Colchester for refusing to fight.A military spokesman insisted the two, thought to be from Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade, had been flown back from Kuwait on medical and compassionate grounds.

By Sharon Asplin

BRITISH authorities last night denied reports that two of their soldiers had been sent home to Colchester for refusing to fight.

A military spokesman insisted the two, thought to be from Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade, had been flown back from Kuwait on medical and compassionate grounds.

He said there was no evidence to suggest the soldiers had returned to the UK for refusing to fight, saying the incident took place just before the US-led invasion of Iraq began. He declined to say whether the men would face any further action


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Reports in a national Sunday newspaper alleged a private and an engineer from the brigade - a frontline unit which has since been engaged in heavy fighting in southern Iraq - were sent home to their barracks in Colchester.

According to the report, the two men told their commanding officers that they would not fight in a war involving deaths of innocent civilians.

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It said their case had been taken up by Forces Law – a group of law firms which act for service personnel and their families – and that they could face up to two years in prison for disobeying orders.

More than 4,500 men and women from the region are currently serving in the Gulf, including personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade, based mainly at Colchester Garrison and Wattisham Airfield, near Needham Market.

The British military spokesman at war headquarters in Qatar confirmed that two soldiers had been sent home at the end of February on "medical and/or compassionate grounds" but declined to comment on whether they would face disciplinary action.

"Neither was sent home for refusing to soldier," said spokesman Major William Mackinley. "It happened at the end of February, before any military action began, so how could they have been sent home for refusing to fight?"

And yesterday, an MoD spokesman in London added: "We do not comment on specific cases but we are aware of the stories circulating. We have no evidence to suggest that any troops have been sent home for refusing to fight.

"Personnel do return to the UK for a number of reasons in accordance with routine military procedures and they often return to the conflict area later."

He too would not be drawn on whether the MoD in London was continuing its inquiries into the matter or if the men would face court martials.

Last night, Shadow Defence Secretary and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said he was unable to confirm whether or not the reports were true.

He said: "If they are true then I would say nobody forces anyone to join the Armed Forces and if you join you have to obey orders.

"The one thing you can expect if there is an armed conflict is that you might be in it. We do not have conscription in this country so if you join the Army then you cannot be a conscientious objector."

Colchester MP Bob Russell said he had heard reports that two soldiers had been sent back after refusing to fight, but that he believed what he had been told by the MoD.

"I have heard it is totally untrue," he said. "I'm prepared to accept the MoD statement. My understanding is that that the two soldiers returned long before combat began.

"We have 3,000 men from Colchester with 16 Air Assault Brigade and if two are unfit long before the conflict begins it could be for any number of reasons."

Personnel currently serving in Iraq from 16 Air Assault Brigade's Colchester headquarters comprise the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 216 Signal Squadron, 13 Air Assault Support, Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, 156 Provost Company Royal Military Police and 16 Close Support Medical Regiment.

From Wattisham, brigade units include 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, 7 Air Assault Battalion, REME, The Pathfinder Platoon and the brigade Parachute Squadron.

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