Deacon Cutterham's medal-winning heroic actions questioned ahead of auction

By Jonathan Beale
Defence correspondent, BBC News

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionSjt Deacon Cutterham was presented with his medal at Buckingham Palace in 2012

The heroic acts that earned a former British soldier a medal have been called into question by some of those who served alongside him, days before he plans to sell his medal collection.

Deacon Cutterham was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for picking up and hurling away a Taliban grenade.

But some soldiers who served with Mr Cutterham in Helmand province have told BBC News they dispute what happened that day in Afghanistan in 2011.

Mr Cutterham denies their claims.

Some of his former colleagues in the 1st Battalion the Rifles chose to speak to the BBC after reading reports that Mr Cutterham expects his collection of seven medals to fetch up to £120,000 when sold at auction on Thursday.

"I don't believe he earned that medal and now he might make money from it," said one soldier, who added that it was "abhorrent" to hold the auction so close to Remembrance Day on 11 November.

Another said: "We didn't care if he wanted to tell people how brave he was. What we care about now is him making financial gain from this."

Mr Cutterham, 37, from Bristol, joined the Army at 16 and served in Iraq and Afghanistan during a 19-year military career.

The grenade incident happened when, with the 1st Battalion the Rifles, he was leading a patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj District in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.

Deacon Cutterham has given several interviews about the incident.

In 2012 he described what happened to the BBC: "Grenade came over the top. With that I shouted 'grenade' and then advanced on it, picked the grenade up and and then posted it, and it literally went off as soon as I pulled my hand away - and prevented me and my lead scout from getting serious injuries or death."

In other accounts he said the grenade was thrown over a wall and then landed in a ditch: "I had seen exactly where it had landed but couldn't see it in the stream.

"I quickly placed my hand in the water to search for it and placed my hand directly on the grenade, shouted to take cover and posted it."

'Utterly courageous'

The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, which is one level down from the Victoria Cross, is awarded in recognition of acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations.

Mr Cutterham's name was put forward by his officers, and their recommendations would have been passed up the chain of command.

The citation on Mr Cutterham's award reads: "The action itself was utterly courageous, carried out with composure and clarity of thought.

"Cutterham's gritty leadership and gallant act saved lives and inspired his men."

No-one disputes that a grenade did go off that day. Everyone on Mr Cutterham's patrol - and back at the patrol base - said they heard an explosion.

"We believe a grenade was thrown, but it was his," one of his former comrades told the BBC.

Another soldier, who says he carried out an equipment check when the patrol returned to base, claimed: "There was one grenade missing."

'Not a shot fired'

The soldiers the BBC has spoken to also questioned why any member of the Taliban who was close enough to a British army patrol to throw a grenade did not follow up with any further attack.

They spoke to the BBC on condition that their names not be used because most are still serving soldiers.

One soldier said: "He [Mr Cutterham] says he saw someone running away. Nobody else did. Nor was a single shot fired on that patrol."

The BBC has been told by several sources that a drone was flying above the patrol at the time and the video feed showed no sign of enemy activity in the area or any individuals nearby.

The BBC asked the Ministry of Defence to provide any statements from anyone on the patrol who could back up Mr Cutterham's account, but none were given.

A BBC request to interview someone from the MoD in response to the allegations was turned down, but the ministry said in a statement: "Acts of courage that warrant an honour or award are rigorously scrutinised before being approved.

"If serving personnel have a grievance, there is a formal process for them to register their complaint through the chain of command, which would be looked into accordingly."

Several of the soldiers who spoke to the BBC said they did raise concerns at the time, but were told they were only doing so because they disliked Mr Cutterham.

Most of those who spoke to the BBC have admitted they disliked him.

Mr Cutterham did not award himself an honour. It was the decision of his officers to put his name forward. But in this case some soldiers clearly question the process.

One said: "If you have a medal it makes you look good; it makes the commanders look good."

He added: "You have to look to history when it comes to medals, there are witnesses… there's been other people backing up what they've done."

The BBC approached Mr Cutterham for an interview on several occasions. He said in a statement by email: "I'm extremely disappointed that people are questioning the events of that day. I strongly deny these claims."

He added that the incident had an enormous impact on his life and that he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues.

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