Sunday Times: The Royal Navy has been accused of carrying out a discreet purge of senior figures involved in the fiasco over the arrest by Iranian Revolutionary Guards of 15 British sailors and Marines.
The Sunday Times
Naval commanders have paid the price for the fiasco over the arrest of 15 sailors and marines by Revolutionary Guards
THE Royal Navy has been accused of carrying out a discreet purge of senior figures involved in the fiasco over the arrest by Iranian Revolutionary Guards of 15 British sailors and Marines.
Those involved in the navy’s humiliation have left their high-profile jobs as part of an attempt, it is claimed, to sweep away any reminder of the debacle, regarded as one of the biggest embarrassments to befall the fleet since Admiral Byng failed to relieve Minorca in 1756. He was executed for his incompetence.
Victims include two vice-admirals and the captain of the ship on which the boat crews served. A senior official involved in the “spin” operation that followed their return to Britain has left the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
“Everyone involved in this debacle knew their careers were going nowhere but this was done in a very British way to avoid the impression of a public purge,” said a senior source close to the internal inquiry.
There was widespread anger when eight Royal Marines and seven sailors, including a woman, gave up without firing a shot after being left with no helicopter cover during the incident in March last year. They had been boarding suspect vessels in the northern Gulf to check for insurgents or contraband. Tehran said they were in Iranian waters when seized. The British insisted they were in international waters.
They were released after 13 days’ captivity and shown in front of cameras talking to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president. They thanked Iran and were even given “goody bags” to take home.
The navy’s embarrassment was compounded by the decision to allow two of them, Leading Seaman Faye Turney and Able Seaman Arthur Batchelor, the youngest at 20, to sell their stories to tabloid newspapers.
Batchelor made things worse when he revealed that the extent of his ordeal while in Iranian custody involved jailers flicking their fingers against his neck, calling him “Mr Bean” and taking his iPod.
Tony Blair, then prime minister, insisted there would be “no witch-hunt” and no individuals were blamed for the fiasco or the decision to allow the sailors to sell their stories. Behind the scenes, however, senior figures have departed.
The most senior was Vice-Admiral Sir Adrian Johns, second sea lord, who publicly took the blame for the decision to allow Turney and Batchelor to sell their stories. He was not given another post and has retired.
Vice-Admiral Charles Style, assistant chief of the defence staff in charge of operations, who had to explain to the media what had happened, was replaced after just 18 months in his post. He was sent to command the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, with the three-year term taking him up to retirement. Defence sources claim he was unfairly treated.
James Clark, director of news at the MoD when the stories were sold, went on a course at the college and has since left to join a consultancy. He insisted he had not been sidelined, saying: “A great job came up so I took it.”
Commander Jeremy Woods, Cornwall’s captain, was relieved of his command in July after an assessment found he was “not in a position to take the ship forward”. He is still in the navy.
Des Browne, then defence secretary, lost his job in October’s reshuffle and was widely seen as having been sacked.
Turney and Batchelor are still serving. Turney, 27, said at home in Plymouth: “I have not he a rd people have been removed from posts.” Batchelor, 21, still serves on the Cornwall and was unavailable.
The MoD denied any purge, insisting those concerned “chose to move to other things”.
Recent naval fluffs
– February 2002. Royal Marines training in Gibraltar misread their maps and invaded Spain by landing on the beach at La Linea. They apologised and quickly retreated.
– July 2002. The destroyer HMS Nottingham ran aground off Australia, tearing a 160ft hole in her side. Returning and repairing the ship cost £42m. Commander Richard Farrington, the captain, was court-martialled and reprimanded and the officer of the watch was “dismissed his ship”.
– January 2008. The aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious set off to head a task group bound for the Indian Ocean but returned to Portsmouth when its fridge broke down. Officers feared that meat might go off in the hot climate.