Falklands veteran 'forced out over sexuality' plans to sue MoD

By June Kelly
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

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media caption, Falklands veteran left isolated by navy axe

A Falklands veteran forced out of the Royal Navy over his sexuality plans to sue for the return of military honours.

Joe Ousalice, 68, served for nearly 18 years but was discharged in 1993 when there was a ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces.

His lawyers want other military personnel who were dismissed over their sexuality to have lost medals returned.

The MoD said it would be "inappropriate" to comment as legal proceedings are ongoing.

A spokesperson added: "We are currently looking at how personnel discharged from service because of their sexuality, or now abolished sexual offences, can have their medals returned."

Mr Ousalice's lawyer Emma Norton says the MoD has made similar statements in the past.

'It was a double life I was living'

Mr Ousalice is a former radio operator who now lives in Southampton.

He served in the Falklands War in which he lost two comrades, did six tours of duty in Northern Ireland and was also posted to conflict zones in the Middle East.

"I loved life in the navy, because of the comradeship," he said. "It was my life."

His work was praised by his seniors and he was awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct medal in 1991.

But he knew when he joined up that he had to hide the fact that he was bisexual.

"It was a double life I was living. I was watching every day what I was saying, what I was doing."

He says that when ashore he never visited gay pubs and on board ship he didn't associate with sailors who he knew were gay.

"I knew if I did I would have the SIB (Special Investigation Branch) on my back doing covert operations, shadowing me with cameras, taking photographs of what I was getting up to."

image caption, Mr Ousalice says he would never visit gay pubs as he feared investigators would track him

But throughout his career he felt the SIB was monitoring his behaviour and he says he was regularly questioned by investigators.

While ashore in 1992, he was arrested by civilian police and charged with gross indecency with another man.

He pleaded not guilty but was convicted. He lost an appeal but his sentence was reduced to a conditional discharge.

Soon afterwards he was accused by the navy of indecently assaulting another sailor.

"It wasn't true," he said. "The navy had interviewed me several times about my sexuality and they could never get shut of me."

At a court martial he was cleared of the assault charge but was found guilty of being in bed with the other sailor - something he has always denied.

He says he was also forced to disclose his sexuality.

'A guy just cut the medal off me'

He was dismissed on the grounds that his conduct was prejudicial to good order and naval discipline. An officer wrote: "He may attempt to corrupt others in the future", adding that "the needs of the service must come first".

Mr Ousalice's medal and three Good Conduct Badges were taken from him.

image source, Joe Ousalice
image caption, Joe Ousalice (on right) receiving a medal

"After the court martial was completed a guy came in with a pair of scissors and said 'sorry mate, I need your medal' and just cut the medal off me.

"The fact that I had been to the Middle East, to the Falklands, to Northern Ireland six times means a lot to me and that medal is proof to me that I was good enough for all those years and yet somebody can just come and take it away from you."

He was allowed to keep his medals from the Falklands and Northern Ireland.

Mr Ousalice had hoped that the lifting of the ban on LGBT people in the armed forces in 2000 would help him in his long battle to have his medal returned.

Down the years he has appealed to politicians of both main parties without success.

Now, human rights organisation Liberty has taken on his case and plans to sue the MoD.

The group argues that Mr Ousalice was discharged "entirely because of his sexuality" and it is calling on the MoD to apologise.

Emma Norton, its head of legal casework, argues that the MoD's actions infringed Mr Ousalice's human rights.

image source, Joe Ousalice
image caption, Mr Ousalice (highlighted) has not sought compensation and says he just wants his medal back

After being discharged, Mr Ousalice was unemployed and penniless - having to scavenge for potatoes at a local farm to feed himself.

There was also the emotional toll of being forced out of the job he loved: "It was like a bereavement. I'd lost all those other people I worked with."

He found other work but his financial losses also included a reduced pension. He has never sought any compensation.

Now in poor health, he added: "I'm disgusted at the way I have been treated and I just want my medal back."

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