Britain’s wars make veterans with PTSD


This video from Britain is called Afghan [war] veteran calls for troops to be withdrawn – Stop the War protest.

It says about itself:

Interview with former soldier Paul McGurk and his partner Irina about why they are marching against the Afghanistan war.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

‘You don’t ever get over it': meet the British soldiers living with post-traumatic stress disorder

Robert Kilgour blames a history of violence on his time in the army – and he’s not alone. As British soldiers withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, we meet the veterans still living in the line of fire

Simon Hattenstone and Eric Allison

Saturday 18 October 2014

It was when Danny Fitzsimons hid in a wheelie bin that his family began to suspect something was wrong. Danny, 34, had been drunk and abusive at a family event, circling the house and banging on the windows. “Every now and again, the bin lid came up a tiny bit and then went down again,” says his stepmother, Liz.

She looks at Fitzsimons’ father, Eric, who has since developed dementia. We are sitting in the living room of their smart bungalow just outside Rochdale; they are both retired, former PE teachers. “Eric said, ‘Come on, Danny, I’ll take you home’ and he said no. So Eric waited till Danny set off, and thought he’d better make sure he got home. Eric didn’t get back till 3am. I said, ‘Where have you been?’ He said, ‘I’ve been following Danny. He’s been playing bloody soldiers all the way home.’ He was doubling back, hiding behind walls. We now know that this is hyper-vigilance, but we didn’t at the time.”

Fitzsimons had joined up at 16, excelled in training, saw active service in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and won a distinction as a sniper. In 2004, after eight years, he applied to have his contract extended, but was discharged. “They said he had anxiety disorder,” Liz says. What did the army do to treat it? “Nothing that I’m aware of.”

When he returned home, Fitzsimons was a different character. He had gone into the army full of hope (his mantra was the Farm song All Together Now) and came out full of hate. Liz recalls a time when he was left with his younger cousins. “He said to the kids, ‘This is what you do to niggers: get them on the floor and stamp on their head.’” Where had that come from? “The army, I think. He wasn’t racist when he went in.”

Fitzsimons began to get in trouble with the law. He served nine months in prison for assault (his defence was that he thought he was being followed), was convicted for firing a flare gun over the heads of teenagers climbing on his roof, and was charged with a racist assault.

In May 2008, he was diagnosed with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by a court-appointed doctor. In June 2009, Dr Jameel Hussain wrote a psychiatric report, in which he said of Fitzsimons: “He gave a clear description of nightmares, vivid dreams, visual flashbacks, and he can also smell burnt flesh and feel the smell of death… At times he would be afraid to sleep because of the nightmares he was having. He also described… an example of tensing up when he saw hazard warning lights on a vehicle. He explained that in Iraq, vehicles loaded with explosive devices only had their hazard warning lights on.”

When Fitzsimons applied for a job in Iraq with the security firm Armour Group Security, owned by G4S, he didn’t tell his family. At the time, he was on bail and not allowed out of the UK. Somehow, none of this was enough to deter G4S from employing him, in August 2009. He had been in Iraq for just 36 hours when he shot dead two colleagues, Scottish security guard Paul McGuigan and Australian Darren Hoare, after a night of heavy drinking. Fitzsimons claimed it was self-defence, but he was convicted of the two murders and sentenced to 20 years in jail, in Iraq. It emerged that G4S had not checked his records.

Liz is desperate to bring Danny home to a British prison. She shows us photographs of him as a giddy young boy, as a proud paratrooper, and letters in which he talks about how well he’s doing in training. Then more disturbing letters, in which he talks about the horrific things he’s seen. Liz describes how they heard about what he did, and it’s as if she’s telling it for the first time. “Danny’s friend, Scott, texted Eric and said, ‘I think Danny’s in trouble in Iraq.’ We didn’t even know he’d gone to bloody Iraq. Scott said he thought Danny had killed somebody. I rang Rochdale police and they said, ‘Ring the police in London’, and when the copper rang back, he said, ‘Look at the front page of the Washington Post’, and there it was.”

Liz blames a military that dismissed Fitzsimons with no follow-up, and a security company that failed to do basic checks. “I rang the army because I wanted to know what to do, and they never even answered me.” Fitzsimons was haunted by a recurring image, Liz says. “He was only 18 or 19; he was out on a tour in Kosovo and this little boy, six or seven, would bring them bread and milk. They played football with him and would chat with him, and one day they found the little boy’s body in pieces in their water supply. Imagine how you cope with that? They knew it was their fault, because the boy was seen as a collaborator.”

Both the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice agree: there are a worrying number of veterans within the criminal justice system. MoD statistics err on the conservative side, quoting 2,820 veterans in prison in 2009/2010, or around 3.5% of the prison population. In 2009, the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) put the figures higher: 8,500 veterans serving sentences in UK prisons, and a further 11,500 on probation or parole. Two out of three ex-soldiers imprisoned in the UK have committed sexual, violent or drug-related crimes, according to the MoD. The research into the relationship between ex-soldiers’ PTSD and crime is inconclusive and often contradictory: a Howard League for Penal Reform inquiry in 2011 concluded that there was no link; a Napo report suggested that half of veterans in prison had depression or PTSD (compared with 23% of the male prison population).

“It suits the MoD to minimise the numbers in order to reduce the extent of liability,” says Tony Gauvain, a retired colonel, psychotherapist and chairman of the charity PTSD Resolution. “But given the numbers of people suffering symptoms now, and the latency of the condition likely to result in increasing numbers, there would seem to be a determination to avoid admitting there is a problem.”

The idea that PTSD can lead to violent crime is embarrassing for the MoD – and potentially costly. Those diagnosed with combat-related PTSD are entitled to a disablement pension, while victims of the crime could also potentially claim compensation. Between 2005 and March 2014, 1,390 claims were awarded under the Armed Forces and Reserve Forces Compensation Scheme for mental disorders (including PTSD) – but this figure could well spiral over the next few years as the army withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan. To put this into context, in America, 20% of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have been diagnosed with PTSD; in 2011, 476,514 veterans were treated for it.

Robert Kilgour scares his family, and he often scares himself. He has been imprisoned three times for violent offences. On the last occasion, he almost killed a man – his victim required 100 stitches after Kilgour attacked him with a bottle. We meet at his flat in Edgware, north London. On a table is a photograph of his former wife, his daughter and his granddaughter. Kilgour is tense, on edge. He served in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the Gulf war, and returned to civilian life in 1993. But everything was different. “I just couldn’t keep it under control. I don’t want nobody to be close to me. I don’t want them to see what I’m going through. I’m 43, and every time I think about what I’ve gone through, it brings it back. It’s still raw. I’ve seen some of the best people you’ll ever meet in life put in the ground, and I’ve put people in the ground. It’s changed me. That’s why my eldest daughter told my granddaughter, ‘You ain’t got a grandad, he’s dead.’”

In a way, Kilgour says, his daughter is right – he is dead, or at least the young boy who dreamed of being a boxer is dead. He doesn’t act, or react, like a rational man. He frequently gets into fights. “I don’t like no one. I don’t even like myself. I’m disgusted with some of the things I’ve done. You take someone’s life away, no matter if he’s going to kill you, and you don’t ever get over it.”

He talks about his nightmares; the screaming, the shaking, the sweating. What does he dream about? “That’s a bit personal, as it happens.” Silence. “No, I’m not going to shy away from nothing. Listen, if this helps anyone…” He stops again. “Mate, if I drop a tear and you laugh at me, I’m going to smack you straight in your fucking face, I swear.

“My best mate Rob was from Norfolk, and we were in Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland. I was the lead in a four-man team, and my mate got shot in front of me. He was ripped apart. He looked like a lump of meat. I didn’t even know who it was. I just looked down and carried on firing. That’s my recurring dream. I was going to be his best man. He was supposed to be married the following week. I had to go up to Norfolk to see his missus. She said, ‘You said you’d look after him.’ And she slapped me round the face.” He laughs, but a strangled sound comes out. “I was crying my eyes out, and she wouldn’t even let me in the door.” Does he ever wish he had been the one killed? “So many times.”

Bluebell, his jack russell, starts barking. He jumps. “I’m very on point all the time. Anything that happens, the slightest noise, I’m like that. I’ve got a couple of friends going through this, and they’re doing lithium. They can’t look straight at me – they’re dribbling wrecks.”

Rob was killed 20 years ago, but Kilgour didn’t begin to process his death until he started getting arrested repeatedly for violent assault. He says it was only when he was in prison that he found out what was wrong with him. “It took a prison officer, an ex-army bod, to come to my cell and say, ‘I know you’re suffering.’ Before that, I just thought it was me. I’m still having counselling eight years on.”

After his release, he received counselling from PTSD Resolution. Kilgour blames the army for failing to prepare him for life on the outside. “That’s why so many of my colleagues go to prison. It’s all due to violence. None of them can keep a relationship.”

It’s mid-afternoon, and he cracks open a can of cider. He says he’s controlled his drinking these days. “I used to drink till I went to sleep. I just wanted blackness. It was like a form of dying.” Since he started counselling, he’s been in trouble a few times, but he has not been in prison again. …

“24795536 Private Kilgour, third battalion Queen’s Regiment, sir! You go there,” he says, “you stick a bayonet in and stick a couple of rounds in someone’s head. I’m signing off now. Right, fuck off. They trained you to be a soldier, a killer, but they don’t then train you to be a civilian again. I’ve done so much for you and you took so much away from me. Why don’t you just give me a little bit back? Why don’t you give us six months and retrain us?”

More service personnel are returning to civilian life. What is the army doing to prepare them for it? “Nothing,” he says. “You’ve only got a few centres round the country looking after people suffering from combat conditions. I guarantee you, in the next five years you’ll hear so many things: an ex-serviceman killed his missus; an ex-serviceman killed two people. It scares me.”

***

Combat Stress HQ in Surrey exudes calm, with its manicured lawns and ex-military personnel quietly going about their business. It is by far the UK’s largest mental health charity for armed services veterans. Dr Walter Busuttil, its director of medical services, admits that the MoD has been reluctant, in the past, to recognise PTSD. “Do you know much about the class action held against the MoD in the late 1990s?” he asks. “OK. There was an allegation from Falklands veterans that the military could and should have treated post-traumatic stress disorder. About 400 took the MoD to court, and they lost their class action, but many of them won their cases on an individual basis. After that, the MoD took steps to make sure that didn’t really happen again. So it decided to do much more research, which is why the King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) in London came about.”

Research carried out at the KCMHR has shown that army personnel experiencing “mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder” are 4.8 times more likely to report violence on homecoming. What is Busuttil’s experience of combat-related PTSD?

“The main thing I hear is, ‘I was a bit more irritable when I came back from deployment. I became irritable years later. I lost my temper, I started drinking a bit more. Couldn’t sleep… nightmares about military service.’ Then specific incidents, particularly worrying about being in a crowd. So it’s about feeling hemmed in, irritability and excessive drinking.”

Busuttil insists it is simplistic to assume a direct correlation between PTSD and violent crime. “There’s an element of self-selection: a lot of these men had been violent before they joined the army. You don’t have to become ill to be angry.” He is convinced that alcohol is the dominant trigger. But surely, if you’ve got PTSD, you’re more likely to drink? “Absolutely. And combat in itself makes you more aggressive.”

Busuttil agrees that the armed services could do more to prepare veterans for civilian life. “We need to look closely at how we manage the transition. It’s difficult to engage people at the end of their service – it has to be a managed process from the day they join.”

At the King’s Centre for Military Health Research in London, forensic psychiatrist and clinical lecturer Dr Deirdre MacManus conducted a study of 4,928 UK armed forces personnel deployed in Iraq in 2003. The study found that 12.6% admitted to being violent on their return home, and that the violence was often associated with flashbacks to experiences of combat and trauma. In many cases, the violence expressed itself years after combat.

Like Busuttil, MacManus believes that alcohol and background play a major role. “Yes, PTSD is strongly associated with violence, but the caveat is that it’s not as prevalent as other problems, such as alcohol misuse, which again is a strong predictor of violent offending.”

She mentions the low MoD figure for PTSD among UK veterans (3.5%), though she admits that the figure rises to 7% among those who have seen active service. As of September 2011, at least 191,000 soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, so even by MacManus’s estimate, in the next decade or so there could be more than 13,000 ex-service personnel returning from combat zones with mental health problems. The question of whether they are diagnosed and how they are treated will become critical.

McManus says military personnel can become fixated with PTSD in a way that isn’t helpful. “It’s almost like a badge of bravery. If you have PTSD, then it’s related to combat. If you have depression and anxiety, well, anybody can get that. I think that’s unfortunate, because I see guys coming to me suffering terribly with social anxiety, or depression, but if I give them that diagnosis, they are like, ‘Hang on, doc, are you telling me I’ve not got PTSD?’ They’re not happy to be told it’s ‘just’ anxiety, and won’t engage in treatment.”

In March this year, about 100 specialists gathered at Portcullis House, opposite the Houses of Parliament, to launch a review into the number of veterans caught up in the criminal justice system. The review was set up by justice minister Chris Grayling and chaired by Conservative MP Rory Stewart (who has had to stand down since he was elected chair of the defence select committee). Impressive papers were read by experts, pointing to multiple issues: a lack of jobs, housing, discipline, training for civilian life; disadvantaged backgrounds; reliance on alcohol and drugs; alienation; unpopular wars; “decompression time”, in which armed forces personnel are given 24-48 hours to get drunk in Cyprus before being returned to civilian life. They discussed the possibility of special military courts, such as those introduced in the US; acknowledged that many veterans don’t admit they were in the armed forces because they feel they have brought shame on the military; and examined ways in which veterans who offend can be identified early.

The discussion was relevant and well-meaning, but PTSD was not a high priority among the topics raised, and experts representing veterans suffering from combat-related PTSD seemed sceptical. “I think it’s going to be another whitewash,” Aly Renwick of Veterans in Prison told us.

Renwick was there to champion the case of Jimmy Johnson, who is serving a life sentence for two murders. Johnson has spent the past 29 years in Frankland maximum security prison in Durham, serving his second life sentence. He left the army in 1973 after 10 years’ exemplary service. He had been “mentioned in dispatches” for a heroic attempt to save a woman bombed in an underground toilet, but was traumatised by what he saw (“She looked like a large rag doll smashed to pieces”). He never recovered, and bought himself out of the army. He struggled to find work, became depressed and began to drink.

Four months after he signed his discharge papers, he accepted a lift in a van from an acquaintance. The driver slowed down to pass a group of children playing football. There was a loud bang – either the ball being kicked against the van or a brick being thrown – and Johnson flipped. He remembers taking hold of his acquaintance by the arm and neck. What he doesn’t remember is grabbing a scaffold pole and beating him to death with it. He served nine years. Eighteen months after his release, he killed another man, beating him to death with a lump hammer. Again, he remembered little more than that he’d done it.

While he was in prison, another inmate, a former doctor, told him he could have PTSD. For many years Johnson has campaigned for greater awareness of the condition within prison. In 1990, he set up the first veterans’ therapy group in the UK prison system, and later wrote a Veterans in Prison handbook: a survival guide for those with PTSD. Writing to the Guardian from Frankland, Johnson says that many veterans are unaware that their experience in combat may have left them with mental health problems, which then go ignored and untreated.

Johnson contributed a written piece to this year’s review of veterans within the criminal justice system, citing evidence he collated for a 2007 Veterans in Prison survey: out of 120 inmates he interviewed, 12 were ex-servicemen, 10 of whom had served in conflicts. All 10 were serving life sentences for murder.

Johnson said the British criminal justice system should learn from the US, where veterans who are arrested are put through a different legal process, and also given access to psychiatrists, psychologists and lawyers who specialise in combat-related PTSD. Some are tried at a specialist veterans’ court, and defence teams can plead mitigating circumstances.

Johnson acknowledged that PTSD can be used by veterans as an excuse for their crime – indeed, there are those who would say Johnson is doing just that – but, he claims, by far the greater risk is that PTSD goes untreated throughout a prison sentence. In his evidence to the review, he wrote: “Shamefully, veterans of war/conflicts have been totally disregarded by the criminal justice system, and conveniently all classed as criminal in the prison population. Terrifyingly, this means that over the years substantial numbers of ex-soldiers who have served life sentences for murder have been released back into the community, the same as they were when they returned home from serving in wars/conflicts … ticking timebombs.”

The MoJ insists it does its best, encouraging prisons to identify former armed forces personnel, then providing access to mental health teams and armed forces charities. Perhaps a measure of their success is that most of the men interviewed for this article were diagnosed while in prison.

Last September, army reservist corporal Harry Killick, who had served in Afghanistan, was jailed after admitting to stealing a rifle and ammunition from his barracks in Brighton. In October 2012, he had turned up at the house of his former girlfriend, Jackie Lothian, and entered the property with a fully-automatic weapon and a round of live ammunition. She was not there, but her brother Jason was. Killick loaded a round of ammunition in front of him and asked where his sister was, but Jason managed to call the police. Killick, who was £20,000 in debt, claimed that he had planned to kill himself. After he pleaded guilty, citing trauma suffered during his tour in mitigation, sentencing was adjourned while judge Anthony Scott-Gall considered non-custodial options.

But then the army produced documents to undermine Killick’s case. It stated that Killick had not witnessed colleagues being killed or injured in Afghanistan. The army added that none of the contacts Killick had endured in his six-month tour was “particularly fierce”, that his sergeant had given him a glowing reference, and that “at no stage has there ever been any suspicion or suggestion that he might be suffering from PTSD as a result of his experiences in Afghanistan”.

Judge Scott-Gall branded Killick a liar, saying he had been accurate and truthful in many areas, but in the critical areas, he was not. He ruled that Killick was suffering from adjustment disorder rather than PTSD, and sentenced him to five years in jail.

In May, Killick wrote to the Guardian from HMP Highdown in Sutton, saying he was involved in 300 foot patrols, two of which involved contact with the enemy, and described his anxiety after an IED exploded, injuring one of his company. When he returned to his parent unit in the UK, he says his behaviour changed dramatically. “I had issues with noise, shouting. I could not watch programmes on television and I was constantly having flashbacks. Before this tour I had prided myself on being level-headed, able to deal with pressure very well.”

Killick recognises a gradual build-up to his theft of the gun. “I had issues not long after returning, but did not know why. On 12 June, after someone had a go at me about Afghanistan, I just lost it. I just popped. Everything that happened came out. It was like every memory I had came up and up and would not go away. Day by day, it got worse until I could not sleep, concentrate, lost interest in things…”

It is documented that on Killick’s return he asked the army for trauma risk management assessment and was seen on three occasions by a community psychiatric nurse. “During August, it got so bad I made my first attempt of suicide, but was talked down by my sister. I reported this to the mental health nurse on his next visit and a more in-depth assessment was done. I was then referred to the local mental hospital to see a psychiatrist, but I never got to see him because I was arrested.”

Since being in prison, Killick has been assessed by psychiatrists from the prison health care team and been diagnosed with PTSD. He hopes to appeal his five-year sentence through the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and says he cannot understand why the army was so determined to deny that combat-related PTSD contributed to his crime.

***

Walter Lee spent 23 years in the army, serving in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Kenya, and during his final four years worked as a boxing coach with the King’s Regiment. Last year, he was medically discharged with diabetes. He had difficulties adapting to civilian life. He got drunk and mouthy one night, and ended up in a police cell.

There are many charities working with veterans struggling to adapt to life on the outside – some more effective than others. One of the better organisations is Live at Ease, which provides support for veterans within the criminal justice system. After he was arrested, Lee was contacted by a senior veterans manager, Alan Lilly, who asked if he was having problems with life on the outside. “So I’m like, ‘Alan, honestly, I got a bit drunk, I was cheeky to the police. But I came out with a pension, I’ve got a house and a job.’”

Lee felt he’d got off lightly, but he knew that some of his former colleagues had got into serious trouble. He decided to volunteer with Live at Ease. However, Lee was in more trouble than he liked to admit. He spent all his money on his daughter, lost his job and discovered he did have anger issues. The more you talk to Lee, the more you realise he is one of those veterans Jimmy Johnson was talking about: adamant that they have not suffered combat-related PTSD, despite the evidence mounting around them.

Lee explains why he joined the army. “I was getting in trouble when I was younger. I was hanging around with the wrong people. I never thought about the army until one of my mates joined – Stephen, my best friend. He’s dead now. A group of us go to Liverpool every October. We all meet up for five friends who got killed in Ireland. We have a guest speaker, a band, the drummers come on.”

The incident happened in 1990. A van drove into a checkpoint and detonated a 1,000lb bomb as Lee’s friends were getting into an armoured Land Rover. “The only reason the guys who survived did so was because the doors imploded and jammed instead of exploding outwards. A team of IRA came down from the hill to kill the survivors, but they couldn’t get in because the doors had jammed. As we were trying to get out we could hear our friends saying, ‘They’re trying to get in.’ So that’s a harrowing story, yeah.”

Lee left the army later that year. “I was diagnosed as acute death-phobic. I just learned to deal with it, with the anxiety and stuff that goes with it.” But he’s just said he has never had a combat-related stress condition. He laughs. “I’m fine now, I’m fine. And it’s good to talk about it.” How did the acute death phobia express itself? “I had hot sweats. I used to wake up in the middle of the night. I don’t class it as acute death-phobia any more. I threw away the tablets.”

… But like Robert Kilgour, he feels bitterness towards his former employer. “It’s a lonely life; once you’re out, you’re on your own. Basically, you’re institutionalised.”

***

“These were not cries for help, this was serious,” Elizabeth Powles says of her husband, Barry. “He’d use a blade. If I walk away, he will self-harm. It’s as if he has been possessed.”

Elizabeth is talking from her home in Exeter. Her husband, Captain Barry Powles, served 32 years in the parachute regiment; he saw active service in Malaya, Borneo, Bahrain, Yemen and several tours in Northern Ireland. He is currently sectioned at the Langdon hospital for the mentally ill in Dawlish. In June 2013, the former paratrooper was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison for common assault on his wife.

Elizabeth insists he did not actually attack her. She says she had a seizure and blacked out. While she was unconscious, Barry stabbed himself in the hand. He then started stacking furniture compulsively. Elizabeth says that when she came to, there was blood everywhere. She banged into the furniture, which collapsed on her. Her husband was later arrested and convicted of assault. He was diagnosed with combat-related PTSD by two psychologists and two psychiatrists. Just three days after he came home, there was another incident. This time, Elizabeth says, he really did assault her. “I went to wake him up and he just reared out of bed and went for me. It was as if I was attacking him and he was defending himself. It didn’t seem like my husband. I think he was having one of his night terrors.”

In June 2013, Powles pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm and was remanded to Exeter prison, where he spent 10 months before being transferred to the psychiatric hospital. Elizabeth and Barry have been married almost 51 years, and she says he has been having nightmares ever since she knew him. Did he have treatment? No, of course not, she says. He was too proud, too private, and who knew about combat-related PTSD in those days? “In the army, you don’t show anything, not in front of your mates.”

Despite his problems, Elizabeth says, she could not have wished for a better husband. “I know it might sound awful coming off a pair of old wrinklies, but we’re two halves of a coin.”

Powles had never been much of a drinker in the army, but he started to drink secretly after he retired, hiding alcohol in the garage. His assaults were judged to be alcohol-fuelled, but his wife is convinced it’s the other way round: that her husband was drinking because he couldn’t bear living with his condition.

Eventually, Elizabeth forced him to confront his problem and he got in touch with Combat Stress. A case worker was initially helpful, but then said she would work with Powles only if he stopped drinking. Elizabeth still finds this baffling. “Combat Stress will not recognise that drink is part of the self-medication. It’s no good saying, ‘If you have another drink, I shan’t come back.’ That’s not treating it at all. It’s ignoring it.”

Last October, Elizabeth received a letter from the Service Personnel and Veterans’ Agency (the MoD’s pension body), which stated that Powles was due only a 60% war disablement pension because Combat Stress “were not supportive” of the PTSD diagnosis. This August, following an independent diagnosis of service-related PTSD, the agency revised this, writing to say the pension had been increased to 100%.

Powles has no memory of the attack. The judge delayed sentencing, and he was sent from prison to Langdon. The hospital is a sterile, soulless, modern unit and, visiting on a warm day, it’s a relief to escape to the garden outside. A short, wiry man with luminous hazel eyes and a strong Midlands accent, Powles talks of his time in the parachute regiment, proud of his progress through the ranks, from private to captain. When he was in Borneo, his unit was sent to search for three missing soldiers from the Royal Signals. All they found were bodies, two half-eaten by animals and another decomposing, hanging from a tree. He was later sent to Yemen to search for two more soldiers – this time, all they recovered were two severed heads that had been paraded round a village on stakes, to frighten the locals.

Then, visibly upset, he tells of a duty he undertook when he was finished with active service. During the Falklands war, it fell to him and his commanding officer to inform service wives that their husbands had been killed in the conflict. “The rule was, we had to wear full ceremonial dress to visit the army housing estate. When the women saw us coming, some refused to open the door, refused to believe the message they clearly knew was being delivered.” This memory seems to haunt him even more deeply than the gruesome scenes he witnessed in conflict zones. “I never thought about the things I’d seen while I was serving. I was too busy. Then I started to think and have flashbacks, and drinking was a hiding place.” Today he seems calm, and says he wants nothing more than to pick up the pieces of his life with Elizabeth.

A couple of weeks after our visit, Powles is finally sentenced to 24 months in jail and released on licence, because he has served more than half his time. But the judge insists that Powles must live in a hostel in Plymouth until November 2015 and have no contact with Elizabeth. She is distraught and convinced that his mental health is deteriorating.

The findings of the government review into veterans in the criminal justice system is due soon. The former soldiers we spoke to, and their families, fear a report that will understate combat-related PTSD as a contributory factor. They question whether the army and Combat Stress are being sufficiently vigilant, and wonder why many of the former soldiers affected had to wait so long to be diagnosed.

Back in Rochdale, Liz Fitzsimons is determined to get her stepson home from Iraq, not least so his father, Eric, can see him while he still recognises him. She is convinced that if Fitzsimons had been treated and monitored by the army, it would never have come to this. “It’s ruined our lives,” she says. “I’m sad it happened to us, and very sad it happened to Danny, but in some respects we’re equipped to deal with it because I’m bloody determined.” She slaps the table as she speaks. “You know, they’re not getting away with it. They’re not. I’m not having it.”

British government’s Libyan torture scandal


This video is called Tony Blair meets Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Libya rendition victims demand disclosure of UK surveillance policy

The government’s refusal to reveal when lawyers’ and journalists’ communications can be intercepted is central to claim brought on behalf of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi

Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent

Friday 17 October 2014 10.05 BST

Secret government policies which set out when lawyers’ or journalists’ phones and emails can be intercepted should be published, a court has been told.

In an open hearing of the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), which examines complaints against the intelligence services and government use of surveillance, lawyers for two Libyan victims of rendition have called for the documents to be released.

The government’s refusal to reveal the policy papers has emerged as a key issue in the claim brought on behalf of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi who, along with members of their families, were kidnapped and sent to face punishment in Libya in 2004.

The case before the IPT alleges that the intelligence agencies or government spied on their communications with their lawyers, damaging their right to a fair trial in their claim for compensation for kidnap and torture.

Communication between lawyers and their clients are deemed to be “privileged” under longstanding rules. Similar protection applies to the communications between journalists and their sources and other protected groups.

In a hearing at the IPT, Dinah Rose QC, representing the Libyans, said: “We don’t understand why it’s being said that disclosure of policy will cause harm to national security. None of this information ought to be secret. Procedures for ensuring that privileged material is properly protected ought to be open to public scrutiny.”

The government has declined to disclose policies regulating the circumstances in which these communications are intercepted and any safeguards in place to avoid abuse. It says they are secret.

At Thursday evening’s hearing, lawyers for the government did not explain why the policies could not be released. Further preliminary hearings will be held before the case is tried in November. One issue is whether the tribunal has the power to order the government to disclose documents, a principle that could turn into a major confrontation between civil rights groups and the government.

The IPT complaint is one of a series of cases after revelations by the CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden about monitoring of the internet and telephone calls by Britain’s eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, through its Tempora programme.

Eight Libyans, members of the two families, say they were victims of rendition. They claim they were kidnapped by MI6 and US intelligence agencies, forcibly returned to Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and tortured. At that time, in 2004, when Gaddafi relinquished his nuclear weapons programme, intelligence relations between Tripoli, London and Washington were close.

A separate legal action between Belhaj and the UK government is due to be heard at the high court to resolve compensation for the kidnap and torture allegations. The human rights group Reprieve, which is supporting the claim, fears its ability to fight the case will be undermined because staff’s legal correspondence may be surreptitiously monitored.

Saadi, another Libyan dissident, and his family have settled their claim against the government for a payment of £2.2m. The Foreign Office did not, however, admit liability.

The “notice of complaint” by solicitors at Leigh Day on behalf of Reprieve and the Libyans lists the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, the home secretary and the foreign secretary as respondents. It calls for the case to be heard in open court. Most of the IPT’s hearings are in secret.

The claims states: “There is a strong likelihood that the respondents have intercepted and are intercepting the applicants’ legally privileged communications in respect of the [cases].”

Belhaj and Saadi were prominent military leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group during the revolution, the document points out, and are, therefore, “likely to be of interest” to UK intelligence agencies.

British bird migration to Africa, problems


This video is a documentary about bird migration and their stop overs in the North West of England.

From BirdLife:

New report reveals scale of declines of UK migratory birds wintering in Africa

By Martin Fowlie, Thu, 16/10/2014 – 15:53

The migration of millions of birds across the face of the planet is one of nature’s greatest annual events. Every spring some species move in one direction, while every autumn those same species move in the opposite one, very often linking continents.

Although these migration patterns are as regular as the seasons, monitoring is revealing that, for some species, fewer birds are making the journey each season as the populations of these birds, including species nesting in the UK, are declining rapidly.

The latest in the annual series of State of the UK’s Birds report includes a migratory birds section, including trends for 29 migrant species which nest in the UK in summer and spend the winter around the Mediterranean, or in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. For the first time the recent population trends for these migratory species have been combined into an indicator revealing some marked differences between species that winter in different areas.

Species, such as Whinchat, Common Nightingale, Tree Pipit and Spotted Flycatcher, which winter in the humid zone of Africa – stretching across the continent from southern Senegal to Nigeria and beyond – show the most dramatic declines: the indicator for this group of species has dropped by just over 70% since the late 1980s. This contrasts with species, such as Sand martin, Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler, wintering in the arid zone (just below the Sahara desert). These species have fluctuated considerably since 1970, but show a less than 20% decline overall.

One of the most dramatic declines is that of the European Turtle-dove with a decline of 88% since 1995. The following species have also declined over the same period: Wood Warbler, 66%; European Pied Flycatcher, 53%; Spotted Flycatcher, 49%; Common Cuckoo, 49%; Common Nightingale, 43%; and Yellow Wagtail, 43%.

Concern about migratory bird species is growing and future editions of the State of the UK’s Birds report will contain a regular update to the migratory bird indicator. To understand the changing status of the UK’s migratory birds, researchers need to understand more about what’s driving these declines. Evidence is currently being gathered from a variety of sources including tracking studies and on-the-ground surveys.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: ‘West Africa is the winter home for many bird species that breed in the UK. But many of these birds that cross continents are in rapid decline. Their nomadic lifestyle, requiring sites and resources spread over vast distances across the globe makes identifying and understanding the causes of decline extremely complex.

‘The problems may be in the UK or in West Africa, or indeed on migration in between the two.’

David Noble, Principal Ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), said: ‘We can accurately monitor the patterns of decline in these once-familiar summer breeders thanks to several decades of careful observations by an army of volunteer birdwatchers. More recently, tracking devices have shed light on migratory routes and key wintering areas.

‘To take appropriate action, further study is needed to determine the pressures faced in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as breeding here in the UK.’

Colette Hall, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) Species Monitoring Officer, said: ‘The length of many bird migrations – often thousands of miles – makes it very difficult to pinpoint where and what is causing populations to fall.

‘So the more information we can get all along the migration routes – on land use changes, new infrastructure etc – the better we can target protection measures. It’s important that we help build up the capacity of local bird organisations and volunteers across the world to provide vital information through their own long-term monitoring.’

Alan Law, Director of Biodiversity Delivery at Natural England said: ‘It is self-evident that effective conservation of a migratory species requires appropriate measures to be in place at each step of the migratory cycle.

‘For some species, there is growing evidence of pressure on breeding success here in England. Our focus therefore is to ensure that well-managed habitats are available in this country so that migratory species can breed here successfully; this work involves close collaboration with land managers both on designated conservation sites and across the wider farmed countryside.’

David Stroud, Senior Ornithologist with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, said: ‘Migratory birds depend on conservation actions in all the countries they move through in the course of their annual cycle.

‘The UK is working with these countries to help improve the condition of their critical habitats through its participation in multi-lateral environmental agreements such as the Biodiversity Convention and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.’

The State of the UK’s Birds report also covers the UK’s Overseas Territories. The latest evidence reveals mixed fortunes for two important albatross populations in the UK’s Overseas Territories. Seventy per cent of the world’s Black-browed Albatrosses nest in the Falkland Islands. A population increase here has allowed researchers to downgrade the extinction threat of this species from Endangered to Near Threatened. Sadly, the fortunes of the Grey-headed Albatross has deteriorated as declines have been reported in nesting colonies on South Georgia, which hosts half the world’s population.

The State of the UK’s Birds report is published by a partnership of eight organisations: RSPB; British Trust for Ornithology; Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust; Natural Resources Wales; Natural England; Northern Ireland Environment Agency; Scottish Natural Heritage; and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Anti-fascism in Britain, 1936-2014


This video from Britain says about itself:

26 September 2012

The magnificent mural in Cable Street in East London, depicts the 1936 battle of Cable Street, when East end residents stopped Oswald Mosley and his fascist followers marching through their streets. In this powerful dissection of what happened, the real battle we learn was three way, between the police, the fascists and local people. Interwoven with eye witness testimony from Bill Fishman, Alan Hudson provides a riveting account of the events, the context and many hidden truths. The official labour movement tried to stop the anti-fascist protests and organised an alternative rally in Trafalgar Square. Lessons for today come thick and fast and we are left to contemplate the mural’s contemporary meaning.

By Gerry Gable in Britain:

They still shall not pass

Saturday 4th October 2014

Gerry Gable reports on the state of Britain’s extreme right 78 years after the Battle of Cable Street

In October 1936 the nature of fascism and national socialism was far clearer to the people of Britain.

In Spain a democratically elected socialist government was under attack by Spanish fascist generals supported by Moorish troops under General Franco’s command and armed and supported by Hitler’s Luftwaffe and Mussolini’s fascist volunteers.

While thousands of anti-fascists ranging from Communists to even the odd Conservative from a multitude of countries rallied to the defence of the Spanish republic behind the slogan: “They shall not pass”, at home their counterparts, Mosley’s jackbooted, black-shirted private army with its wealthy and influential backers, and the barking mad Arnold Leese’s Imperial Fascist League, which had advocated the mass gassing of Jews since 1928, were out in the open, and the people reacted in the most appropriate way — by confronting them on the streets.

Move forward to today and the enemy, who in the main have hardly shifted in their warped ideology, now come in multiple forms and sizes.

The past five years have witnessed the collapse of the British National Party, the first British nazi party to make a breakthrough at the ballot box with, at one stage, more than 60 elected local councillors and another 40 or so on parish and town councils, many elected unopposed, as well as two MEPs.

In terms of membership, the BNP never reached the size of Britain’s largest post-war fascist movement, the National Front, which similarly underwent a rapid collapse after its heyday in the 1970s.

The BNP never had more than 15,000 members and at the end of 2013 officially had 4,220 members and falling.

Since then the party has lost its two MEPs as well as its leader, Nick Griffin, who resigned from the chairmanship in July and was booted out of the party this week, is now keener to spend time in Russia and Syria, and with leaders of the murderous Golden Dawn in Greece and Forza Nuova in Italy.

In Britain Griffin, who had been appointed BNP president, had been undermining his successor Adam Walker, resulting in his expulsion from the party on October 1.

Various split-offs from the BNP have gone nowhere. Those slightly less thuggish nazis around the former BNP MEP Andrew Brons, founder of the British Democratic Party, are rarely heard of. Britain First has barged its way into the headlines with its green-uniformed mosque invasions, but has lost its financial backer James Dowson and its leader Paul Golding is awaiting trial for harassment and wearing a political uniform. And the rump of the National Front has split yet again.

So where does the danger come from? The English Defence League certainly presented a problem, with its marches of thousands of drunken racists around the streets of our major cities giving rise to community tension and disruption.

They have been joined by some well-organised and violent Polish nazis living in Britain who boast at private nazi meetings about carrying out violent attacks on black, Muslim and Jewish people.

Searchlight predicted that the anti-fascist movement would be tested by having to defend communities country-wide nearly every weekend.

Investigations of the EDL uncovered the fact that it was initiated by a group of wealthy businesspeople, who were pulling the strings. However on the streets the organisation, which has no formal membership, was badly led by a pair of low-level convicted criminals. The greater problem would come, we said, when the EDL splintered into small but violent factions.

The EDL have tried three times to mount major marches into the area around Cable Street. On each occasion they have been repulsed by a united front of thousands of people drawn from the local community and further afield. They still have not passed.

Hungarian nazis have also tried to organise in London but were beaten off by large numbers of anti-fascists led by UAF.

But Britain’s fascists are best organised outside the media spotlight. There are three centres for their operations. One is the Traditional Britain Group (TBG), a follow-on from the far-right Monday Club and Western Goals of the 1960s and 1970s.

The TBG organises closed meetings and conferences, bringing into the country well-known overseas extremists, and has links to several millionaires who finance websites and publications internationally.

The TBG also acts as a bridge between fascists and a number of ultra-Tory groups, where one finds Conservatives sitting down with former senior nazi activists such as the infamous former NF organiser Martin Webster.

The second is the Iona London Forum, which also brings in overseas nazis to address its private meetings. These include Germans, Italians, Poles, Spaniards, Swedes, Russians and Americans, including last weekend the key US nazi Mark Webber.

Some have hate-crime convictions in their own countries, but have no trouble entering Britain. Among Iona’s speakers are Holocaust denier David Irving and disgraced fascist bishop Richard Williamson.

The most worrying development is the arrival on the far-right scene of Generation Identity. This group first surfaced in Sweden at a secret meeting attended by Russian fascists such as Alexandr Dugin and the French extremist philosopher Alain de Benoist.

GI believe the “white race” has been brought down by two calamities — the defeat of nazi Germany and what they term the Marxist cultural revolution of 1968, when young people in the West stood up in a left-oriented revolt.

GI are close to the TBG and Iona and are not boneheads or sub-working class but middle and upper-class young people at university or recently graduated. They tell their followers they are prepared to die for their beliefs.

This weekend they were to have gathered in Budapest for a very important conference. For some months Searchlight has exposed their plans and last weekend the Hungarian government banned the conference.

Since last October a series of nazi conferences have taken place in London, Vienna, Crimea, Stockholm and several mainly young far-right extremists, as well as Griffin, have visited Syria for meetings with the Syrian fascist party, founded in 1936 in support of fascist Italy and still approved of by President Assad today.

Readers may wonder why this article does not mention Ukip — well that would need another article.

Searchlight, since its creation 50 years ago, has always been intelligence-led and we are very proud of the work of our volunteers working inside the extreme right in Britain and abroad. From the outset we have worked on the basis that, in the battle to defend democracy against its enemies, we can never win unless we know our enemies’ plans, make a sound analysis and use it to best effect against them.

Gerry Gable is editor and publisher of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.