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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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