Iran General NewsThe errors that let Iran seize 15 crew members

The errors that let Iran seize 15 crew members


The Guardian: A secret report on the seizure of 15 Royal Navy sailors and marines by Iranian forces has uncovered bad intelligence, inadequate training, confused communications and poor judgment by senior military commanders. The Guardian

· Secret report accuses senior commanders
· MoD backs ban on military personnel selling stories

Richard Norton-Taylor

A secret report on the seizure of 15 Royal Navy sailors and marines by Iranian forces has uncovered bad intelligence, inadequate training, confused communications and poor judgment by senior military commanders.

The conclusions are part of an internal Ministry of Defence inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the capture of the sailors by Iranian revolutionary guards in the northern Gulf in March. The defence secretary, Des Browne, skirted around the unpublished report yesterday when he presented the findings of a separate study on the media handling of the affair.

The incident was described yesterday by Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, the first sea lord, as “one bad day in our proud 400-year history.” The navy personnel were shown on television before being released in a propaganda coup exploited to the full by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The humiliation was compounded by the navy’s decision, accepted by the MoD, to allow the sailors and marines to sell their stories to the media.

The findings presented by Mr Browne yesterday said that serving military personnel should be banned from making money this way, a recommendation accepted by the MoD. The seizure by the Iranians of the naval boarding party, which had just inspected an innocent merchant ship close to, but not in, Iranian waters, was “about judgment, not about kit”, Sir Jonathon said yesterday.

He insisted that the rules of engagement were not at fault, and that there was nothing wrong with the Lynx helicopter which had returned to the mother ship, HMS Cornwall, during the boarding operation.

The separate unpublished report into the incident, drawn up by Lieutenant General Sir Rob Fulton, governor of Gibraltar and a former head of the Royal Marines, will be kept secret for operational reasons, said Mr Browne, though it has been given in confidence to the Commons defence committee. Sir Jonathon said it pointed to a “collective failure” in what he called a “very complex, fast-moving operational context”.

Mr Browne told MPs that Gen Fulton noted the “need for improvements in the handling of intelligence, in communications, in doctrine, and in training, both individual and collective”.

Mr Browne said the Fulton report concluded that the incident was “not the result of a single gross failing or individual human error but of the coming together of a series of vulnerabilities”. He suggested there was “no case for disciplinary action against any of the individuals involved”. However, Sir Jonathon said later: “Appropriate administrative action will be executed.” This could affect careers but is unlikely to lead to a court martial. The first sea lord said a sailor in the navy “should not have an iPod on him” – a reference to the youngest of the seized crew, Arthur Batchelor, 20, who said in an interview on his release that he had his iPod taken from him and was teased about being like Mr Bean.

Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House and former BBC director of news and current affairs, who drew up the report on the MoD’s media handling of the affair, spoke yesterday of a “collective failure of judgment or an abstention of judgment” within the ministry. He said he had not been able to identify ” a single person who in practice authorised the decision” to approve payments by the media to the released navy crew.

The aftermath

· Leading Seaman Faye Turney, who was 26 when she was captured, sold her story to ITN and the Sun

· Royal Navy Operator Maintainer Arthur Batchelor was 20. He was ridiculed for saying that his iPod had been taken away and he had been teased for looking like Mr Bean

· Navy sailor Nathan Summers was 21. He was shown on Iranian TV saying the British had “trespassed”. But the tape showed signs of editing

· Royal Marine Captain Chris Air, 25, was shown on Iranian TV saying they were apparently seized in Iranian waters. He later said fighting back would have caused a major incident

· Royal Marine Joe Tindell, 21, said: “We had a blindfold and plastic cuffs, hands behind our backs, heads against the wall. Basically there were weapons cocking. Someone, I’m not sure who, someone said, I quote, ‘lads, lads I think we’re going to get executed'”

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