Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Heroic major sues British Army over 'cover up' that got him blamed for friend's death in battle and ruined his career

A highly respected officer is planning to sue the Army after he was wrongly blamed for the death of a colleague in Afghanistan.

Major Jonny Bristow saw his career ruined because senior officers said his tactical and leadership errors were responsible for the death of Captain James Philippson – even though a coroner blamed a lack of basic equipment.

Major Bristow, 44, who commanded hundreds of British and Afghan troops, quit the Army in disgust after top brass stuck to their official line for more than five years

Now his call for an official apology has been backed by Tory MP and former Army officer Tobias Ellwood, who said there had been a 'cover up' and that his treatment brought shame on the military.

In June 2006 Captain Philippson became the first British soldier to be killed after UK forces were deployed to Helmand province. The 29-year-old officer of the Royal Horse Artillery was shot in a night fight near the Taliban stronghold of Sangin.

At an inquest at Oxford, coroner Andrew Walker dismissed claims in an Army report that Major Bristow's poor decision-making had cost Capt Philippson his life. And he condemned the lack of kit such as night-vision goggles and machine guns.

The coroner said: 'To send soldiers into a combat zone without basic equipment is unforgiveable, inexcusable and represents a breach of trust between the soldiers and those who govern them. They were defeated not by the terrorists but by the lack of basic equipment.'

Despite the damning ruling, the Army refused to apologise to Major Bristow, of Crawley, West Sussex.

The former officer, who served in the Royal Scots Regiment, claims the damage to his reputation left him unable to find a permanent job in the security industry. When prospective employers Google his name, he says, they find articles blaming him for the death of a fellow officer.

And the fact that the conclusions of the Army's Board of Inquiry (BOI) report are so publicly available has even impacted upon Major Bristow's private life. While on a date, he says, his companion brought up the incident, which she had seen on the internet.

Now he is demanding an apology from Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and a statement clearing his name – otherwise he says he will take his case to the High Court. His supporters believe he has a strong case for constructive dismissal.

In a formal complaint to the Director of Personal Services, Major Bristow wrote: 'My reputation has been damaged. I wish to establish why such a fundamentally flawed report was allowed to be ratified.

Furthermore, I sincerely believe the integrity and credibility of the Army's judicial system has been damaged. Those officers who wrote the report should be held to account for their actions and made to understand the damage and distress they have caused.'

On June 11, 2006, Major Bristow led a 20-man party to rescue a patrol ambushed by the Taliban. The patrol was surrounded by gunmen hiding in the darkness. On their approach, Major Bristow could not see the enemy because he had not been issued with night vision goggles.

Also, a lack of machine guns meant his men were outgunned. The group came under heavy fire which killed Capt Philippson. Major Bristow completed another tour of Afghanistan in 2010, but later that year, with the Army still not having replied to his formal complaint, he was forced to take a job training reservist recruits in Glasgow.

Disillusioned, he took voluntary redundancy, leaving this year.

The Ministry of Defence said last night: 'Our thoughts remain with the family of Capt Philippson. A military Board of Inquiry concluded in 2007 that his death was not caused by one factor but was linked to a number of contributory issues.'

Original report here

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