England

Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement inquest: Military bullying debate reopened

  • 3 March 2014
  • From the section England
Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement Image copyright other
Image caption Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement had been in the army for five years when she was found dead at Bulford Barracks

A second inquest into the death of Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, who was found hanged, has found the effect of an alleged rape by two serviceman and bullying by colleagues were factors in her taking her own life.

Her sisters believe the Army should have done more to protect her.

"Anne-Marie was begging for help and support and no-one listened to her," says Khristina Swain.

Her other sister, Sharon Hardy, said the family were completely shocked when they were told their "happy, confident and bubbly" sister had taken her own life.

"We had no idea she was in such a very dark state of depression, but somebody in the Army would have known about that," she said.

Cpl Ellement had alleged she was raped by two soldiers while drunk during a posting in Germany in 2009.

The 30-year-old, from Bournemouth, alleged she was then bullied by other female soldiers. She was found hanged at Bulford Barracks near Salisbury, Wiltshire, in October 2011.

Image caption Khristina Swain and Sharon Hardy said they were in 'complete shock' when told of their sister's death

Ms Swain described how her sister had hoped to travel to Arizona and had long-term plans to become a paramedic.

"We've read her diaries - she was a private person and the last thing she wanted to do was worry her family," she added.

"What upsets us now as a family is that if we had known, we could have helped."

She added: "She felt so isolated - she felt she couldn't go to the canteen, she was stuck in her room. She didn't get any support at all."

The sisters maintain she was also "constantly drained" from excessive hours at work and was frequently called in on her days off.

Mrs Hardy said that after Cpl Ellement sought medical help for depression, information should have been more effectively shared with other units by her superiors and the family should have been made aware of the extent of her mental health problems.

"They didn't take it seriously - nobody seemed to want to take any ownership," she said.

During the inquest, Mrs Hardy said her sister "could not believe" that the two men she said had attacked her would not be charged.

"She was 110% certain what had happened to her," she added.

Image copyright other
Image caption Anne-Marie Ellement joined the Army at the age of 25

A first inquest in March 2012 recorded a verdict of suicide. A new inquest was later ordered by the High Court after her sisters argued the initial hearing did not look at the rape or bullying allegations in any depth.

The RAF Police, supported by the civilian Bedfordshire police force, is currently conducting a fresh probe into the rape allegations.

The second inquest was told that Cpl Ellement's colleagues had openly discussed the rape allegation.

A female soldier, who cannot be named for legal reasons, denied calling her a "liar" and a "slag" and insisted there was no co-ordinated campaign against her.

Human Rights organisation Liberty, which represented Cpl Ellement's family, has launched a wider Military Justice campaign.

It said the system had "failed" and raised questions over the Royal Military Police's investigation into the alleged rape.

Calling for an independent ombudsman, Emma Norton from Liberty previously said: "Only independent oversight of military investigations and greater civilian involvement will help ensure this never happens again."

The Service Complaints Commission (SCC) was set up to oversee complaints of discrimination and harassment after the deaths of four soldiers at Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut, Surrey.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement's sisters said they hoped other families would not have to go through what they have

It has repeatedly concluded procedures are not working "efficiently, effectively or fairly".

Its 2012 report said service personnel frequently have to wait for a year to have problems resolved.

In 2012, 525 new complaints were made to the Army, an increase of 7% from 2011.

SCC Commissioner Dr Susan Atkins advocates her office being replaced by that of a military ombudsman to "more effectively hold the services to account for the just and fair treatment of personnel".

Retired Colonel Peter Walton, board member of the UK National Defence Association which campaigns on armed forces issues, described Cpl Ellement's death as "an absolute tragedy".

However, he dismissed the idea of an independent ombudsman, which he said could undermine military discipline.

"You can't have interference from different places - you have to accept that where people's lives are at risk, the buck has to stop with the commanding officer.

"The fact is the pressures on a young recruit can be very powerful. You need to have a system of discipline supported by good people in command who can spot where a problem is evolving and take steps to deal with it."

He rejected the idea of a bullying culture within the armed forces.

"You can't go ahead with people being bullied into doing things. I'm not saying bullies don't exist. Sometimes the worst bullies in peacetime turn out to be the best soldiers - its a judgement on how you deal with that and that's why you need an effective commanding officer."

Last year the House of Commons defence committee found personnel were reluctant to make complaints about their superior officers.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said it had a "a zero tolerance approach to all forms of bullying, discrimination and abuse".

"Any allegation of rape is taken extremely seriously, thoroughly investigated and appropriate action will be taken.

"We recognise that it takes great courage for any individual to come forward and report a sexual offence," he added.

He said the MoD had worked to improve service personnel's knowledge of how to report concerns and what support is available.

For Ms Swain, the inquest is a chance to offer hope to other service personnel.

"Anne-Marie was begging for help and support and no-one listened to her. If one person had listened to her, my sister would be here today.

"I'm hoping no other family will have to go through this."

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