Army instructors who start sexual relationships with recruits could face jail within a year

Ben Wallace - Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images
Ben Wallace – Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images

Military instructors who start sexual relationships with young recruits could face jail within a year under plans drawn up by the Defence Secretary.

Ben Wallace is championing the creation of a new offence in military law targeting trainers who “take advantage of” cadets.

He is pushing hard for Commons time to pass legislation next year after the shocking suicide of a “vulnerable” student at Sandhurst.

The Ministry of Defence is pressing for a Bill to be fast tracked, but sources acknowledged that it will be a “tough ask” to get it through before the next election.

It came after a charity said that hundreds of servicewomen have reported abuse amid a “toxic culture” of sexual assault at Sandhurst.

Mr Wallace has already introduced a “zero tolerance” approach to instructor relationships with cadets, making them a sackable offence.

Sandhurst Royal Military Academy British Army - Heathcliff O’Malley for The Telegraph
Sandhurst Royal Military Academy British Army – Heathcliff O’Malley for The Telegraph

The Telegraph understands that the order to draw up even tougher punishments came directly from him as a personal policy priority.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Young recruits deserve to be treated with respect, not taken advantage of. That is why the Armed Forces has a zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault and any allegations reported will be investigated, with immediate action taken.

“The Defence Secretary is bidding for new legislation that would make it a formal offence in military law for those found guilty of sexual relationships with new recruits, potentially resulting in court martial and a custodial sentence.”

Mr Wallace previously told The Telegraph that such liaisons are “appalling” and should attract a “severe response and sanction”.

He stepped in following a damning report into banned sexual relationships taking place between instructors and cadets at Sandhurst.

It was ordered after Olivia Perks was found dead in her room in Feb 2019. She was the first female Sandhurst cadet to take her own life.

Olivia Perks Sandhurst
Olivia Perks Sandhurst

The 21-year-old had been involved in a secret liaison with a gym instructor at the training school shortly before her suicide.

The official Army investigation found the number of illicit relationships at the military academy in Berkshire was a factor in her death.

A service inquiry report also found that she had been failed by military chiefs and subjected to a “complete breakdown in welfare support”.

The Defence Secretary is understood to have felt there were not strong enough repercussions for those involved in the case.

Under the planned new legislation, instructors who got involved with the most junior cadets would face court martial and potential jail time.

Defence sources said that making such relationships a sacking offence would deter “99 per cent” of trainers from taking advantage.

They added that Mr Wallace wanted the creation of criminal sanctions to act as “the last brick in the wall” to deal with those who ignore the warnings.

Dominic Raab Justice Secretary Ministry of Defence - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Dominic Raab Justice Secretary Ministry of Defence – Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

One insider said there was a very good chance the legislation will happen and that the Ministry of Defence hopes to get it through Parliament next year.

However, another cautioned that it may prove difficult to secure the Commons time needed for the law ahead of the next general election.

The creation of the new offence would need to be approved by Rishi Sunak as well as Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary.

The Telegraph understands that no other department has objected to the idea so far, though it is still in the early stages of consultation.

Sentencing guidelines for those who broke the new law, setting out potential prison terms, would be drawn up after it was voted through by MPs.

‘Epidemic’ of rape culture

Officials have acknowledged that the new offence would be unique, with no similar equivalent in civilian law, making things more complex.

It would protect soldiers both in phase one basic training and when undergoing initial specialist instruction in their particular military field, known as phase two.

Mr Wallace has set up a Defence Serious Crimes Unit that “will ensure anyone found guilty will face the full weight of the law and immediate dismissal”.

Salute Her UK, a charity for servicewomen who have experienced sexual assault and rape, has urged Army chiefs and the Ministry of Defence to confront predatory behaviour at Sandhurst.

It claimed there was an “epidemic” of rape culture across the military with nearly 200 women having sought help after suffering abuse while training at the academy.

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