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The unknown soldier

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Mark Easton | 16:17 UK time, Wednesday, 7 October 2009

It was a powerful story from the shadow home secretary. Chris Grayling began his speech in Manchester today with these words:

"One of our soldiers in Afghanistan, he was home on leave in his local town centre on Saturday night. Out of the blue he was attacked and beaten by two drunk youths.
"The police were called. The two attackers were arrested. And let off with a caution. Not tried. Not put behind bars. Not even given a community sentence. Just given a legal slap on the wrist. Time and again, the troublemakers just seem to get away with it."

I rang Mr Grayling and asked him about the soldier. Who was he? Where did it happen? What did the police say?

Chris GraylingThe source of the story, he told me, was an e-mail he had received some months ago from somebody claiming to be the father of the soldier in question. It was an incident that he had recounted in previous speeches. The family had asked to be left alone and he did not think it right to name names.

Leaving aside the fact that his big Tory conference speech was launched with a tale he'd told before, had he, I wanted to know, checked the story out? Had he spoken to anyone else? The police? No, he had not.

The story, Mr Grayling said, was not unusual. It was "an example of caution culture".

But it is quite a serious allegation that police officers, wherever they were, effectively turned a blind eye to an unprovoked (out of the blue) attack and beating of a British serviceman.

Without more details, we are not in a position to know whether the officers did the right thing or not. If, for instance, the soldier had also been drinking and if there were allegations that he too had thrown some punches, the whole story would change.

I am sure that sometimes police get it wrong when trying to make sense of the wreckage from inebriated Saturday nights. Mr Grayling may have an important argument about the kind of response we expect from the criminal justice system in dealing with the unattractive face of the night-time economy.

But if senior politicians are going to make out that brave British soldiers are being seriously assaulted and police don't take it seriously, we need to know more about the story.

So, if anyone does know about the soldier in question and can shed some light on what happened, please do let me know.


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  • 1. At 7:44pm on 07 Oct 2009, Paul Craven wrote:

    Interesting post, Mark.

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  • 2. At 8:58pm on 07 Oct 2009, Reaper_of_Souls wrote:

    Whilst I understand the concern, the following phrase comes to mind;
    "The family had asked to be left alone and he did not think it right to name names."
    I trust that any journalistic investigations will respect this wish unless assurances to the contrary are received.

    As to the story itself, low level crime is often apparently considered as to be a poor use of resources, unless it falls into a category where it would boost the stats relating to a new initiative (initiatives which unfortunately focus scarce resource at one issue to the detriment of others).

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  • 3. At 9:11pm on 07 Oct 2009, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    Ah, yes, Mr Easton - put that telescope to your Nelson's Eye and make sure we don't pay too much attention to such stories. After all, can we really trust our own eyes and ears when we are out and about on Friday and Saturday night in our town centres ??

    All that 'drunken behaviour and violence' is probably just high-jinks isn't it ??

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  • 4. At 9:13pm on 07 Oct 2009, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    Read this..

    And then tell we don't have a 'law and order' problem in this country..

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  • 5. At 9:47pm on 07 Oct 2009, watriler wrote:

    At least this alleged incident demonstrates (if true) the at least the police were present on the street. It seems most of the time they are whizzing around in patrol cars and venture on to the street only when their cars cant be driven on the pavement!

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  • 6. At 01:27am on 08 Oct 2009, Reaper_of_Souls wrote:

    # 3. lordBeddGelert wrote:

    "All that 'drunken behaviour and violence' is probably just high-jinks isn't it ?? "

    It all depends if there's a TV crew there and the possibility of a spot on "police camera action" or some other reality show.
    After all it has to be seen to be being dealt with if there's a camera there... hmmm would policing improve if there was a TV crew on every street? - that could be what all the media studies student are for.

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  • 7. At 02:26am on 08 Oct 2009, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    This and recent incidents in the U.S. really highlight the rage that many young people are feeling. It stated that over 60% of teens had either been the victim of a violent offense or witnessed one. Our children are screaming for help. There is just too much pressure on young people in school to achieve, conform, be better, sexier,smarter. Schools have become really cruel places because so many children are suffering emotionally. Our children don't need gangs they need therapists.

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  • 8. At 02:30am on 08 Oct 2009, copperDolomite wrote:

    The police could confirm the story if true and no need to identify the family either.

    We should always look for the evidence and be prepared to back it up, so quite right Mark.

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  • 9. At 06:24am on 08 Oct 2009, Blurgle wrote:

    Yes, this does have to be confirmed. There's no need to name the family if this actually happened, but too many scare stories are exaggerated or completely fabricated, and the people who tell these stories are often too interested in how the story will affect others than they are of its factual accuracy. A story that is inaccurate conveys a lie, even if the person telling the story believes it to be true.

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  • 10. At 08:05am on 08 Oct 2009, Lazarus wrote:

    As some have been saying for years, Mark, the problem is not the police, it is the CPS (known affectionately in some circles either as Criminal Protection Service or Couldn't Prosecute Satan).

    Blogs like this tell of the sheer frustration faced by the members of our police force at the front-end of tackling the unending chaos that our society has descended into.

    To re-quote the speech:

    "The police were called. The two attackers were arrested."

    The fact that they were subsequenctly let off is nothing to do with the police - they arrest people and hand them over to the CPS, who then do their damnedest to get them out again, or failing that, they get let off by magistrates. Or if by some miracle they do wind up in prison, they get let out by the Home Secretary, because there aren't enough prison spaces, or because they served 40% of their sentence.

    The police are under-staffed, under-paid, and under-motivated as a result of the past decade or more's interference from central government, that has the senior police management living by statistics, targets, and paperwork, all a result of the cack-handed social engineering nonsense favoured by this government.

    Furthermore, they're probably more frustrated than we are at the way that criminals just waltz back into society again so easily, especially when they've put so many man-hours and effort into getting them in front of the courts in the first place.

    When the Tories get in next May I just sincerely hope that they'll tear apart the wreckage of the current system and rebuild it using common sense and the experience of the people who actually know what they're doing. Law and Order has all but ceased to exist under NuLabour, and, as the song goes, things can only get better.

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  • 11. At 09:01am on 08 Oct 2009, jon112uk wrote:

    This actual incident may or may not be true: who knows?

    But if you think this is not happening then you need to get out more.

    If the police actually attended, halted the attack and dished out the PNDs then that is actually a pretty good result. At least they turned up.

    Talk to the district judges (magistrates) - they have complained repeatedly that violent attacks are now being dealt with in this way, rather than coming before the courts. The previously hectic magistrates courts are now nearly empty on many days. Ask them about it.

    You could also talk to retailers. Theft from shops ('shoplifting') has effectively been decriminalised by the police. Many small shops are close to being put out of business. How can you run a small shop if you have to pay money to buy the stock but people can just walk and take it for free? Ask them about it.

    The decriminalisation of violence, arson, threats to kill etc by youths - now termed 'disorder' and ignored by the police - has also been discussed recently.

    This is all fairly standard stuff.

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  • 12. At 09:12am on 08 Oct 2009, Chris Purnell wrote:

    "I am sure that sometimes police get it wrong when trying to make sense of the wreckage from inebriated Saturday nights"

    A fantastic line that sums up our lives. Trying to work out in 30 seconds who is telling the truth. It's a skill but no matter how good you are at it there are times we get it wrong-but there's never any forgiveness for the Police Officer-just a complaint and a possible claim.

    I feel like House MD these days-everybody lies

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  • 13. At 09:47am on 08 Oct 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    Mark, there is no way Mr Grayling can back up his story because it almost certainly just one version of a very complex 'night-out' experience.
    Police reguarly 'caution' drunk offenders at the lower end of the disturbance scale - - what's to say the Soldier wasn't cautioned too?

    Was the Soldier even from Mr Grayling's constituency? Somehow I doubt it.

    I smell an anecdotal rat!

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  • 14. At 10:00am on 08 Oct 2009, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    clamdip "Our children don't need gangs they need therapists. "

    It is nonsensical 'garbage' like that which has gotten us into this mess in the first place. The poor little darlings are indulged and pampered like never before and now you want to put them in 'therapy' ?

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  • 15. At 12:36pm on 08 Oct 2009, jon112uk wrote:

    10. At 08:05am on 08 Oct 2009, djlazarus
    "The fact that they were subsequenctly let off is nothing to do with the police - they arrest people and hand them over to the CPS"

    Sorry, that's just not true.

    Substantial numbers of offences are now dealt with by 'Penalty Notice for Disorder' (PND). Put simply it's like when a policeman stops you for doing 38MPH in a 30MPH zone: policeman gives you a piece of paper, pay the fine, it goes on your PNC record but it does not go to court. The police deal with the 'disorder' case themsleves with a PND, it does not have to go to the CPS or a court. The press labelled them 'on the spot fines.'

    This is being done on a very large scale - some district judges (magistrates) are seeing their courts virtually empty now the police have decriminalised a whole series of offences that used to go to court.

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  • 16. At 4:26pm on 08 Oct 2009, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    If children's lives were not constantly under threat by gangs to join then we wouldn't see nearly 600 youths die from gang violence in Chicago. How many teens have been murdered in England these past years?
    Gang threat is real. Talk to kids about the pressure they're under everyday. Teens not only have the gang issue to contend with but many must also help support their families. The relatively easy life of the 1950's is just a memory. These kids are stressed out.

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  • 17. At 5:54pm on 08 Oct 2009, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    Dear Lordbellgelert Sir,
    Yes! What has years of prison solved? Are our streets any safer? Is crime at all time low? Most people who enter prison come out more radicalised and angrier than before? When people have rage they often resort to violence. There is very little done to help people understand what compels them to do certain acts. If people understood their motivations, if they were given a healthy alternative to release their pent up frustrations and emotional pain, alot of this violence would dissipate. Prisons are filled with suffering men. Young men should be given the tools to express and heal their rage so that they don't target
    innocent men, women and children. Isn't it about time we started discussing the issues affecting men? Let's have a very real and frank discussion.

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  • 18. At 6:16pm on 08 Oct 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    clamdip and #16.

    "...600 dead youth in Chicago..".

    And the relevance to some 240 under-21 deaths by another's hand across the whole of the United Kingdom during 2007-08 is?

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  • 19. At 10:19pm on 08 Oct 2009, busloadofffaith wrote:

    Mark's point isn't whether or not there is drunken behaviour on the streets, it's whether politicians exploit this for their own electorial gain without substance. Research from the youth justice board has shown that when politicians make statements about crime, or when major crimes get coverage, sentencing rises, so as a result of this comment the chances are some people will get a sentence they wouldn't have received if they had been in court a week earlier. You may or may not agree that this is a good thing, but if it's based on an unsubstantiated story and on hearsay, then he is adding a level of arbitrariness to an already complicated procedure, and as such is both cynical and irresponsible. Even those contributors who believe in harsher sentences must surely feel that such unwarranted intervention in procedure damages the justice system that Grayling is purporting to uphold. Good digging, Mark. We need to base our justice system on facts and transparency, not emotion and arbitrariness.

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  • 20. At 02:26am on 09 Oct 2009, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    Is that young men are resorting to violence rather than trying to figure out a solution with their brains. Most of the world's violence is caused by men, why is that Ikamaskeip. Pray do tell me.

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  • 21. At 2:20pm on 09 Oct 2009, DisgustedOfMitcham2 wrote:

    A politician makes up a story for political gain.

    Are we supposed to be surprised?

    I'd say this is pretty small beer compared with a story another politician made up a few years ago about Iraq having WMDs that could be launched within 45 minutes.

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  • 22. At 2:30pm on 09 Oct 2009, OOBUCKSHOT wrote:

    politicians coming up with stories to that cant be proved ,is as common as a price hike,what you should be worried about is police policy of recruiting ex service personel as cpo,s ,i had an experience that would
    make you shudder ,this cpo was 6ft3 he was overbearing,threatening,
    And it was quite clear the incident was going to escalate to the point ,
    Where he was going to get violent ,

    the incident was over a PARKING TICKET given to me in a place where there
    were no signs or marks on the kerb ,i displayed my disabled badges,
    i even asked a wpc if it was ok to park there ,
    I did not swear or raise my voice ,the trigger point came when i said i am going to appeal and could i have his number,
    he totally lost it demanded my name /address and said i can arrest you,
    at this point i said to my wife get in the car ,as iv had 2 spine operations i could NOT afford even to be pushed ,
    as i got in the car he jumped infront of it ,got on the radio and shouted for back up for [this suspect] i reved the motor put it in drive ,he jumped out of the way ,and i drove of ,

    I was not chased or stopped and no officer came to my door,

    i did report the incident the result =an officer not qualified to take the complaint /the officer in charge of CPO,S thought an apology would be ok,and a female officer who was qualified to take the complaint ,
    said [we saw it on cct and he did not look good ]
    And he is leaving the force,concusion,the police made it as difficult as possible/the chief officer lied /the complaint went in the shredder /


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  • 23. At 2:36pm on 09 Oct 2009, Tango85 wrote:

    Strange it only comes out now. If the Police did look into this on the night. If both party's had been drinking could the Unnamed soldier have pick out the two youths the next morning.
    The lad went home his father what the happen to you then out comes the tale of woe.
    The facts of the story are only part there. No judge in the land would send the two youths down.
    To me this is a PR tale to make the Hanging and Flog committee of the Tory party smile.

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  • 24. At 2:49pm on 09 Oct 2009, OOBUCKSHOT wrote:

    A man is mugged ,the police turn up ask a couple of questions,he is stunned
    blood on shirt, dazed looking,the police offer to give him a ride around the block to to see if he could spot his attacker ,off he goes ,5 minuets,
    later they are back [no luck ]the officer in charge said sorry we could not see him,and your ok then ,

    At this point i told the victim he had the right to make a statement ,
    at the station about the attack ,and he should go to hospital to get checked over,

    as i walked to my car someone whistled behind me ,i payed no attention,
    then he prceeds to to tell me i should mind my own %%%%%%g business,
    As[ i could come unstuck ]:


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  • 25. At 3:00pm on 09 Oct 2009, johnilmalin1 wrote:

    maybe we should just execute all criminals that would make them done and dusted as they will never be back on the streets or the tax payers paying for their luxuary life in prison it would also solve the overcrowding problem and save monies

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  • 26. At 3:36pm on 09 Oct 2009, stackstevens wrote:

    in reply to the comment concerning legalising drugs,I have heard this said many times, and my answer is why not legalise all crime then we could empty the prisons and save a fortune.I am afraid we must hold the line

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  • 27. At 4:48pm on 09 Oct 2009, Secratariat wrote:


    Hold what line ?

    Could you please explain why some friends having a few spliffs on a Friday night after work is any different to a few friends having a few beers after work on a Friday night ?

    Recreational drug use does not harm anyone but the person using the drugs, if they commit a crime while under the influence how is this any different to them committing the same crime while sober or under the influence of alcohol ?
    The answer is, there is no difference, if someone breaks the law then arrest, charge & prosecute them for it and stop using the excuse of "being under the influence".

    Prohibition is a failed policy, it failed with alcohol and it is failing with other drugs too. The worst thing about it all is that it is currently supplying criminal gangs with over five billion pounds of turnover every single year while costing God only knows how much in wasted Police time, court time & prison spaces, and that’s before we even consider the social & personal costs.

    Legalisation, regulation and taxation is a proven method of reducing & managing the harm caused by recreational drug use, we have many problems with alcohol now but compared to the problems experienced during Prohibition in the U.S. they are nowhere near the same level.

    Even a blind man could see that Prohibition is the single biggest cause of crime and social disorder in our country but the usual blue-rinse brigade will never allow it, they'd much rather cling on to their misguided belief that "drugs are bad" while completely ignoring their own drug use & addictions.


    Several states in the U.S. still have the death penalty, their murder rates are over three times that in Britain.
    Then you've got the problem that people such as the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four etc would have been murdered by the state for a crime they never committed.

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  • 28. At 04:31am on 10 Oct 2009, Tom W wrote:

    "The family had asked to be left alone and he did not think it right to name names."
    So why did Mr Grayling publicicse it in such a high-profile manner? If I told my MP something in an email, and ask that the matter be left alone, I would outraged if he then talked in a speach about it at his party's convention.
    Mr Grayling has breached the trust of the person in question.

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  • 29. At 4:40pm on 10 Oct 2009, Herbert Hindle wrote:

    I had a solar heating system fitted in 2004, the Poole Borough Council say they were not notified and should have been. It will cost me £280.00 to regularise it before I can sell my bungalow, that is more than the system saved me all the time it has been in.

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  • 30. At 05:50am on 11 Oct 2009, EODSpook wrote:

    As an ex-serviceman I have seen this before many times. During the time of the troubles in Northern Ireland certain areas in Scotland were 'No go zones' as we could be easily identified as soldiers, particularly if coming home from tour in hot climates and were singled out by mindless morons. Police would sometimes do what they could, but alot of the time they were seriously restricted wit a lack of conclusive evidence. Other times even the police with clearly little knowledge of service personnel would instictively blame the "trained killer" for instigating the trouble. Service personnel are usually quite easy to identify, especially if coming back from the likes of Afghanistan and as they are at home they are also easy to single out and persecute. Mr Grayling may be talk total rubbish, but I think it unlikely. The soldier in question could easily find himself in trouble with the army as a result of getting into a fight, regardless of what started it as his manangement may see this as bringing the army into disrepute, which is dealt with very seriously. The army being in the spotlight as it is with operations in Afghanistan and other areas around the world is open to the opinions of the public and not all members of the public either understand or agree with what they are doing or more importantly why they're doing it and this will always leave the services and their personnel open to attacks of varying natures, but there should be considerably more done to not only publicise what's going on but to state the reasons why these actions are needed. Only when the public fully understand not only the whats but also the whys will public perseption change. I can already see greater public support for our forces now than there ever was during my service (1988-2003) and the media have helped here considerably. Our forces don't wanted to be treated like heros, just with a bit of common civility and a little respect. Our service personnel are trained to fight, but they fight for those that can't fight for themselves!!! Sorry if I've gone off at a tangent.

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  • 31. At 11:31am on 11 Oct 2009, RomeStu wrote:

    The whole story seems like a very convenient sound bite to make a point to the party faithful.

    Almost certainly it was born in the mind of some ambitious young speech-writer.

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  • 32. At 12:30pm on 11 Oct 2009, EnglishMaan wrote:

    My husband is a police officer. His last 3 cases that have gone to court have been kicked out because the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service)has mucked things up. Not because of anything technical but simple things like failing to call up witnesses for court and in one case for evidently not even reading the case details. No wonder more police officers are issuing fixed penalty notices when the choice is that the CPS will NFA it (No further action as deemed not in the public interest) or just mess it up when it gets to court. Talk about a lot of wasted time and money. The CPS need to get their act together and reflect societies concerns not just the more 'serious' stuff.

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  • 33. At 5:30pm on 11 Oct 2009, Liupeiru wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 34. At 05:02am on 12 Oct 2009, jones_gone wrote:

    this 'story' reminds me of one that appeared in the sun about how the home of some 'soldiers' had been vandalised by 'muslims' but it turned out the whole thing was made up. but the fact he says it was a solider who was hurt, and not simply an unnamed member of the public, suggests it's being embellished, if not made up entirely, for emotive effect.

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  • 35. At 06:40am on 12 Oct 2009, jones_gone wrote:

    "Our service personnel are trained to fight, but they fight for those that can't fight for themselves"

    is that why there are 20,000 former soldiers in the criminal justice system at the moment, including 10% of the prison population?

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  • 36. At 7:41pm on 12 Oct 2009, Death and Taxes wrote:

    Labour's policy of using the Police as tax collectors and it's generally utterly incompetant social engineering have created the conditions whereby such attacks are common place.

    Graylings use of this story is no different to the BBC's use of 'greater truths' surely?

    As to Easton drawing attention to it, well if you caught him then bully for you. I suppose it makes a change from regurgitating Labour press releases ...

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  • 37. At 1:36pm on 13 Oct 2009, Comfyduckling wrote:

    This does happen. I suffered a completely unprovoked attack while in uniform by four men. I was walking through a town centre when these men started shouting insults (how useless and lazy soldiers were, etc)they then jumped me as i attempted to walk on by. I was knocked to the ground and beaten and kicked until unconcious. The beating apparently only stopped as it was near to closing time at the pubs so passers by stopped them. I woke up on a spinal board in hospital. Despite the severity of the beating, the men were let of with little more than community orders and a slap on the wrist. When a serviceman with operational experience cant walk through his town centre in safety, something is most certainly wrong!

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  • 38. At 5:32pm on 13 Oct 2009, Sue_Warwickshire wrote:

    I know someone who has been in the armed forces for ten years and has twice been attacked when out. It has become a badge of so called 'honour' for groups of youths to attack off duty soldiers. They do it very quickly in large numbers and then scarper, probably because they would come out the worst of it, if they stayed.
    On one occasion a soldier was bottled and sustained a broken jaw and didn't even see who hit him. The youths then brag about the fact that they have bashed up some soldiers.
    The police do know this goes on, they just don't want to admit it. Also if the police are badly paid and overworked, what are the soldiers? Many of them aren't even on the minimum wage when they are in Afghanistan with the hours they do.
    Charles, West Midlands

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