6 Oct 2014

The disabled Afghanistan veteran bullied by his superiors

You may think, having lost both legs and an arm in Afghanistan, that a serving paratrooper determined to return to this regiment would be welcomed back as a hero.

You may think so.

In fact what happened to Corporal Tom Neathway highlights again the endemic problems with bullying in the British army and that institution’s fumbling attempts to deal with the issue.

Having come through the gruelling marathon of rehab, determined to get back to 2 Para (2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment), Neathway became the focus of sustained bullying from his warrant officer Regimental Sgt Major Alastair Hutcheson.

When he complained matters became a lot worse.

Hutcheson bombarded the sniper with phone calls. He was forced to wear uniform on base even though this was virtually impossible because of the prosthetic limbs he now had.

Hutcheson was not alone.

Major John Chetty expelled Tom Neathway from his quarters at Brize Norton even though the taxpayer had spent £165,000 converting them for the disabled and now decorated soldier.

He was sent instead to a base in Colchester in Essex which was not converted to serve his needs. A trip to the bathroom involved crawling and hauling his disabled and still recovering body about 100m if there was nobody around to help.

Chain of command

And still the threats continued that his insistence upon complaining about being bullied would only destroy his career.

“It is the chain of command, ” Tom Neathway said in the only TV interview he has given since final judgement in his case.

“These are career guys and they just close up to protect themselves. I know this happened from warrant officer level right up to brigadier. It is disgusting.”

The higher up the chain of command his complaint went, the more senior brass seemingly closed ranks to protect their own rather than deal with the issue of bullying in the army. It initially fell to Brigadier Greville Bibby to review Tom Neathway’s complaint.

The brigadier sided squarely with the bullies. Commending Hutcheson in his report he wrote: “…they should be ashamed of themselves for allowing your integrity to be doubted..” and praising Hutcheson for his “…exemplary record as a senior and trusted warrant officer in the parachute regiment.”

The army blocked serving personnel from complaining about Bibby’s report – but civilians were not bound by that and complain they did – to David Cameron and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond amongst others.

Liars and bullies

In May this year the army finally quashed Bibby’s verdict saying it ‘no longer has any legal standing’.

Fair enough – but that merely leaves Brig Bibby never having to answer any question about his conduct; never undergoing cross-examination and never being held to account.

The suspicion hangs in the air that he was protected by the system because of his senior rank. He remains in the army ‘serving out his time’

And what of messrs Chetty and Hutcheson?

Both were damned as liars and bullies in the final report which closed Tom Neathway’s case last week. Scathing is not the word.

On RSM Hutcheson it says he “lied in his evidence”, “caused distress to a vulnerable soldier” and was “unreasonable and oppressive and his actions amounted to a ‘course of conduct’ of bullying.”

Turning to Major Chetty the verdict says he “showed a serious error of judgement” and “professional failing” so that Neathway was “wronged by the behaviour of Major Chetty who was clearly partisan.”

But it has taken four years for the army system to face its dirty truth. To overturn its own very obvious cover-ups for the bullies. And Tom Neathway is out of his beloved regiment with no discernible way back now.

He told us: “I am still very angry about it. They destroyed and damaged so many lives – mine, my friends who were witnesses.

“I lost a relationship over this and my family suffered. And now all of those involved have got away with all this so far without any sanction. It’s appalling.”

Worse still, those who campaigned for justice on this and many other cases of bullying insist that the same thing can and will happen again to others.

That the fundamental problem of having your immediate officers sit in judgement of the system they are part of and you are complaining about in the first instance, is no way to eradicate a bullying culture.

They say the new system of an ombudsman will not make much difference to that.

The Ministry of Defence told Channel 4 News: “The Service Complaints Panel …has formally apologised to ex-Cpl Neathway and made recommendations for the chain of command to consider. The Army will now appoint a suitably empowered officer, unconnected with the events, to investigate all matters arising from the panel’s decision.”

Update, 16 February 2015

During the course of our investigation we attempted to make contact with Brig Bibby via the MOD and other avenues without success.

Happily, he has now contacted us and we are delighted to add the following statement from him:

“Brigadier Bibby did not review the Tom Neathway case. He was the presiding officer over an administrative case which involved RSM Hutcheson and had nothing to do with the investigation into the allegation of bullying of Tom Neathway. The letters he wrote subsequently, to RSM Hutcheson and three people who worked with Tom Neathway, were not related to the investigation referred to in this article.”

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