Published on 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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16 reader comments

  1. Jay says:

    I have witnessed the same type of systematic bullying by a senior rank.

  2. M.Clarke says:

    Let’s hope justice is served, and compensation where due is awarded.

  3. Steve says:

    this brings back all the horrible memories that I myself suffered. I was “bullied” by senior ranks and became an object of ridicule by other ranks. I was injured, my injured are nothing compared to this brave man, in NI. I was subjected daily to psychological abuse and threats by quite frankly soldiers that weren’t fit to lace my boots.

  4. anon says:

    very well done for running this, if true every single person involved needs to be sacked from the army

  5. Tony Laming says:

    Disgusting,
    Worse conduct than those countries we are trying to “teach”.
    The answer lies with the Prime Minister and the Minister for defence.
    They do not deserve to ask for re-election if this serious problem is not dealt with and ended. They will be deemed as Complicit.

  6. Peadar MacGhabhain says:

    Young Men , think before you join, WAR IS A RACKET, read this book by Smedley Butler twice winner of the MEDAL OF HONOUR USA. You are being used by governments and corporations , and they dont give a damn about you

    Think and think again, its your life , but its their greed , and that’s what you are fighting for

  7. David Britten says:

    I hope that this will discourage people from joining the armed forces. If we didn’t have a military, then politicians would not be able to declare war on other countries and Britain would be a lot wealthier.

  8. Sophie says:

    The way the military treat our soldiers is DISGUSTING! My husband has been victimised and bullied for the past 18months- because he had an injury which prevented him from heavy weight exercises for a few months. He was referred to by his sergeant major as ‘a worm’. There is no one you can go to about this is it is just laughed off and referred to as ‘standard’ for the military. I do not accept this, for men and women who put their lives on the line, I want to know what our government and MoD are going to do about it? It took long enough for them to recognise and start treating PTSD seriously, why don’t the military have the same rights as others when it comes to policies on work related bullying?

  9. Ian Heaton says:

    I injured my back when I was in the R. Signals and was subject to bullying through it. I tried to sue once I left but was unable to. Bullying is rife and encouraged by Senior personnel.

  10. Colin Baker (Sqn Ldr retired) says:

    I knew Tom outside of this incident as he joined us at RAF Halton where his sister was undergoing her recruit training. He is of strong character and so much determination he made our recruits feel small and remorseful when he showed the injuries he had sustained when they complained of minor hurts. I fully support his direction and attitude as he deserves better and for the bullies that still exist in the Army today – get real to the world of today and grow into what you should do for those who give and sacrifice for our country to live in peace

  11. James Hamilton says:

    Hi
    This chap deserves a VC. The bullier deserves a dis honourable discharge.

    What are we waiting for.

    More like this.

  12. Barry Campbell says:

    In a civilian court of law you are judged by your peers. How can the army ever give justice, in events like this, when officers sit in judgement, why can’t they have a jury of peers (privates, corporals, SNCO’s and officers)? Did anyone think anything other than officers colluding, conspiring to cover each others backsides. They should all face DCM.

  13. Nigel Wilson says:

    Watching this report came as little surprise to me. From the stories I have heard over the years to be an NCO in the Paras demands a strange mentality. One former Para once said to me `looking back on it, I realise I was a complete nutter’.
    My late father was a pioneer in special forces during the Second World War. To say he was damaged mentally would be an understatement. It took forty years for his children to find out just what he did as not only had he signed the Official Secrets Act but also in those days you were expected to `pull yourself together’.
    The fighting these days against guerrilla forces makes for a nasty, vicious personal war at which my late father would have excelled. How mainstream soldiers manage is another matter. As one old sweat commented to me once `if you had imagination, you wouldn’t be there in the first place’.
    Not only has the Army a lot to learn, so has the MoD (which, out of principle, should be taken out and shot once a week) but our entire society as well. Often we expect too much, too casually. Patriotism is not enough.
    It is a bl**dy tough job being the boots on the ground.

  14. Clive Bingham says:

    Typical shit from “the officer corp”. The SAS Regiment use the expertise of THEIR limbless vets in a support role, ANY regiment should be proud to support such men who have sacrificed so much for a job they loved.Wounded vets should be honoured, not shoved onto the dross pile.They should show this story to all new recruits….” man , while you are useful you are good , but when you get hit , we don’t give a fuck”. See how the recruitment goes then….( ex serviceman)

  15. Ken Appleby says:

    I feel. For any servicman who dedicated his Life for Queen.and Country and was treated like Alex was..The World should know about any Injustice within the armed forces.Ken Appleby (Former Royal Marine)

  16. Philip Edwards says:

    Alex,

    “Outrage” doesn’t even begin to describe this.

    It would be nice to think this would encourage young men and women to carefully consider what they’re getting in to when they’re sent to do establishment dirty work.

    By and large the military mentality is a one way street to horror. It’s bad enough we need the armed forces at times of genuine emergency without employing them as mercenaries for a thoroughly rotten and corrupt imperialist action.

    The military command mindset will never change: for them, there are never enough resources, never enough young men and women to feed into the butchery. If you get the chance, rerun Sackur’s interview of General “Lord” Richards on the Beeb’s “HardTalk.” There’s nothing new about any of it.

    As for Tom Neathway, he is a genuine hero and inspiration for anybody who loves the best of the human spirit. The same can’t be said of “Lord” Richards and his ilk.

    What was that again about “Lions led by donkeys”?

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