UK Politics

Backing for medals imposter bill

Medals worn by a veteran on Remembrance Sunday Image copyright Getty Images

A Private Member's Bill making it offence for people to wear military medals to which they are not entitled is backed by the government.

The Awards for Valour (Protection) Bill tabled by Conservative MP Gareth Johnson passed its Commons second reading on Friday.

It could create a new criminal offence with a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment or a £5,000 fine.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon says he "fully supports" the proposal.

The bill will undergo further scrutiny by MPs at committee stage at a later date.

"Medals recognise our forces who risk their lives for freedom. It is important their service is properly protected," he said.

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Media captionA Private Member's Bill targeting those who falsely wear war medals gets a second reading.

But James Glancy, a former captain in the Royal Marines who received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his service in Afghanistan, told the BBC's Daily Politics the bill goes "too far".

"I think it's just going too far to suggest someone could go to prison…" he said. "I think it's very important to look at what's going on with someone that is actually pretending that they served in the armed forces.

"There may well be a serious mental health problem and actually that person just has low self-esteem, they're not a threat to the public, and they actually need professional help."

Legislation making the unauthorised wearing of medals a criminal offence was originally introduced in the aftermath of the First World War by the then secretary for war, Winston Churchill.

It remained on the statute book until 2006 when the new Armed Forces Act came into force and the provisions relating to military decorations were not carried over.

'Trust damaged'

Mr Johnson's bill has the backing of the Commons Defence Committee, which said in a report earlier this week that the unauthorised wearing of medals constituted "a harm that is worthy of specific criminal prohibition".

"There is a tangible and identifiable harm created by military imposters against members of society who should rightly be held in its highest esteem," it said.

Speaking at the bill's second reading in the Commons, Mr Johnson said: "To undermine our veterans is wrong. To claim you're a military hero when you are not is wrong, and to steal valour is wrong.

"The point of this bill is to protect genuine heroes. People should not be able to claim that they are heroes when they are not.

Showing MPs his great-grandfather's military medal, he said the new legislation would not stop family members from wearing medals their relatives had earned.

And he said the bill would be sensitive to those with mental health issues.

"What I want to do is to make sure we catch only those who intend deliberately to deceive others," he told MPs.

'Mistaken priority'

Retired Major Judith Webb was the first woman to command an all-male field force squadron in the British Army.

She said changing the law would help to take action out of the hands of vigilantism, and into the hands of police.

"Such imposters - and there do seem to be quite a few of them - should be prosecuted," she said.

But Col Lincoln Jopp, who commanded the 1st Battalion Scots guards in Afghanistan and was awarded the Military Cross for service in Sierra Leone, said it was a "mistaken priority" in tackling challenges faced by veterans.

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