28 Jan 2013

Royal Military Police ‘needs independent oversight’

The army is considering setting up a military authority similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, according to an internal briefing note seen by Channel 4 News.

The Army is considering setting up a military authority similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, according to an internal briefing note seen by Channel 4 News

The document, marked “Restricted – Management”, was prepared for an Army Justice Board meeting on 26 October last year. It suggests how the military police can improve its current system for investigating internal incidents.

It warns that the Royal Military Police needs an “independent oversight mechanism”, which has also been suggested in a recent Defence Committee report leaked to Channel 4 News. This would be an organisation similar to the civilian IPCC model.

It follows the case of Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement, which Channel 4 News highlighted in November. The 30-year-old Royal Military Police officer hanged herself in October 2011 at Bulford Barracks in Wiltshire after alleging that two of her RMP colleagues had raped her. The RMP Special Investigations Branch investigated the allegations, but claimed there was insufficient evidence to charge the accused.

The AJB briefing note acknowledges that the Army’s requirement is to be able to conduct European Convention of Human Rights Article 2 (right to life) & 3 (prohibits torture) compliant investigations into its own personnel.

Alluding to the Cpl Ellement case, it says it is the “crystallisation of [the] issue: propriety of RMP investigating own personnel more broadly in circumstances where Arts 2 and 3 ECHR engaged (allegation of rape amounts to a potential breach of Art 3 ECHR (inhumane and degrading treatment).”

The document concedes independent oversight is “paramount” for the military police to “conduct ECHR compliant investigations with respect to serious allegations”, particularly concerning its own personnel.

Sharon Hardy, Cpl Ellement’s sister, wants the Army to introduce independent oversight which will have no links to the chain of command. She told Channel 4 News there was a lack of independence in the military investigation into her sister’s alleged rape, claiming there were “no independent witnesses. The RMP were actually investigating the RMP. How independent can that be? I don’t think it can be at all. No charges were brought…surprisingly.”

A senior army officer told Channel 4 News: “This is proof that the MoD realise that their current system is unlawful. However, the service police forces are not separate from either each other or the MoD. They all work for the same employer – the MoD.”

Channel 4 News has also seen a letter written by human rights lawyers at Liberty, who are representing Cpl Ellement’s sisters, to the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond. It states that the RMP investigation into the alleged rape was not compliant with human rights legislation because rape allegations should be conducted independently.

An inquest into her death in March recorded a verdict of suicide, but a new inquest has recently been ordered by the High Court after her sisters sought a judicial review.

The AJB document references another case involving more than 140 Iraqi detainees who claim they were tortured and abused by British troops between 2003 and 2008. They want a public inquiry, but tomorrow the High Court must decide whether the Royal Navy Police is sufficiently independent to investigate the claims as part of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.

The note states: “It is crucial that the MoD successfully defends this case as it has wider implications for the maintenance of the position that the three Service Police Forces are separate and independent of each other (and the MoD for investigative purposes).”