CHILD ABUSE IN THE FORCES AND THE SHOCKING DISMISSAL BY IICSA
On 13th July 2019, Sonia Poulton alerted me to her newest video on her Youtube channel. As always, it was a compelling, heartbreaking, fascinating watch and I’m so enraged by the appalling ignorance shown by IICSA that I felt compelled to blog about Mac, his story and highlight the shocking way IICSA has purposely misrepresented abuse in the forces to prevent any inquiry. Is this because of the links to those connected to the establishment? I don’t know, but what I do know is that Mac – whose testimony is appalling – is just one of many who deserve to have their abuse acknowledged and investigated. There are many who couldn’t live with what happened to them and took their own lives, laid to rest side-by-side by perpetrators in a final act of disrespect.
I am writing this blog post solely about the film with permission from Sonia. PLEASE NOTE: TRIGGER WARNING: MAC’S TESTIMONY IS VERY GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING AND ALTHOUGH I HAVE DECIDED TO LEAVE OUT THE DETAILS OF THE MAJORITY OF HIS ACCOUNTS, SOME MAY STILL FIND ELEMENTS OF THIS POST UPSETTING.
ABUSE IN THE ARMED FORCES
Abuse in the Armed Forces (which I’ve taken upon myself to rename Child Abuse in the Armed Forces, because that’s what it was) is a film made by Sonia Poulton documenting one man’s appalling experience during his time as a youngster in the RAF. Mac pulls no punches – he explains in detail what happened to him, so please be aware before you watch the video.
Mac, as he is known, is a 65-year old artist whose work succinctly illustrates the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that has plagued his life since the abuse began when he was just a youngster some 50 years ago.
Mac, the eldest of six children, was raised in Boston – a quiet little market town in Lincolnshire. His mother was confined to a wheelchair.
Despite his innocence of growing up in a quiet setting, Mac describes himself as a ‘cocky 15-year old’ and it was at this age that he was offered an apprenticeship at RAF HALTON in Buckinghamshire as an aircraft fitter. Mac, along with many other boys slightly older that himself, jumped on the train and headed for a new adventure.
Because Mac was still a minor, his parents had to sign a consent form legally handing his guardianship over to the armed forces in 1969. It signalled an abrupt end to any ‘cockiness’ and his life changed dramatically.
On his first day at RAF HALTON, Mac, along with the other new recruits, were sorted into work groups, issued with uniforms etc and then given some free time to socialise. Mac and another apprentice named Seamus headed to the hall where they decided to pass the time playing the piano. Within a minute, a corporal had sat himself next to Seamus, placed his hands upon Seamus’s (as if to teach him how to play) before then placing one hand on Seamus’s right knee, groped him, stood up and walked off. Seamus was shocked and walked away. Mac sat down and the corporal once again came over and did exactly the same thing. Reminiscent of many other survivor testimonies, Mac said he froze because he had no idea what was happening as sex wasn’t discussed at home, and despite the hustle and bustle around him, nobody seemed to care. In fact, Mac concluded very quickly that it was something that just happened in that environment.
Mac aligned himself with a quieter group of boys, particularly smaller boys like himself, but there was an element of bullying in that environment. The general consensus was that you either learnt to fit in or you became a target for bullies. Mac was given the nickname ‘Titch‘ and found himself becoming one of those targets, with the mental, physical and sexual abuse beginning very swiftly.
Mac recalled how some boys would ‘surf’ along the meticulously shiny floor within their dormitory and one prank they enjoyed was to do so under the beds before popping up and giving a lad a fright in the night. Mac slept in an end bed whilst a boy named Ken slept at the opposite end. Ken waited until lights went out and began a habit of sliding himself underneath the beds and up to Mac’s bed, where he would then discreetly put his hands under the bedding and abuse Mac.
THREE MONTHS LATER
Mac and his peers were eventually moved up the hill to ‘One Wing’ where training began and recruits learned to drill. Unfortunately for Mac, this move also signalled an increase in the abuse he suffered, with much of the abuse done under the coercion of blackmail. At that time, the forces would not tolerate homosexuality (although most people know it was prevalant throughout time) and the 1967 reform act did not cover the forces. Instead, the forces operated under military law which stated that if you were homosexual, you could be arrested, charged and face up to two years in a military prison. This law, unbelievably, wasn’t amended until 2000.
Mac was often taken out of the back door of the barracks, which directly led to woods, or the boiler house and under the threat of exposure, was forced to commit acts on groups of others.
On Saturdays apprentices could choose to either do sports or have free time. Mac, now 16, decided to go for a run, so dressed in his RAF issue shorts, top and pumps, he headed to the woods. At the back reaches of the woods Mac became aware a group was behind him before he was suddenly pushed down from behind, held down and raped. He remains haunted by the smell of new grass and mulching leaves – the scent of Spring – that surrounded him on that fateful afternoon.
Mac’s resolve kicked in and he decided he didn’t want to be that person crying in the woods, so he dressed himself and stumbled back to the barracks and through the back door. The barracks were mostly empty so Mac headed straight into the showers and stood fully clothed watching blood disappearing down the plughole. Mac washed and changed into his only pair of civilian trousers, then headed off to find Corporal Thomas, who was in charge of the apprentices.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil
When Mac asked Corporal Thomas if he could see the Medical Officer (MO), Corporal Thomas enquired as to the problem but Mac couldn’t bring himself to explain why and simply said that he’d been injured. Corporal Thomas stated that unless Mac told him why, he wouldn’t be given permission. His resolve hardened, Mac decided to bypass the corporal and approach Sergeant Price instead. It took a week to find him, but the following Saturday morning after drill, Mac approached him but it was immediately obvious that Corporal Thomas had got there first.
Sergeant Price pinned Mac to the wall by his throat and told him to shut up and never mention it again.
With his two accesses to the MO now blocked, Mac had to decide what to do about it and was left with no choice. If he went to the civilian police they would inform the RAF Police and Mac would have found himself serving up to two years in the military prison at Colchester. He had effectively been silenced by the very people charged with looking after his welfare.
BACK TO IT
With nowhere left to turn, Mac was forced to continue his apprenticeship as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately the abuse continued unabated for the next two years, and Mac was silenced by bullying. On one occassion he had his nose broken as a warning to keep quiet.
JUNE 1971 – THE END
Mac’s tenure as an apprentice had finally come to an end by June 1971, and on the eve of his Passing Out parade, the apprentices were given white shirts and bow ties and attended a pre-Passing Out dinner at a posh hotel at Princes Risborough. A group photograph was taken, and Mac explained how all his abusers feature in the photograph (above), including the two NCOs that refused to help him.
On 25th June, Mac’s proud mother and grandparents travelled from Lincolnshire to watch Mac at his Passing Out parade in the presence of minor royalty. After the parade, families gathered around the front of the Mess chatting, but Mac says he and his family were ignored and ostricised, and found themselves round the back of the Mess, and even when the families filed into the hall to attend a meal, they were held back until everyone else was seated and then seated on a table to themselves in a corner of the hall. Mac believes they were ‘ostracised’ because many there knew he had been abused and because his parents were there, they may have been worried he’d say something or create a scene.
Mac returned to Lincolnshire with his family, relieved that it was all over. His apprenticeship now served, he was posted to RAF Coningsby near his home town. Mac’s relief was short-lived when he discovered that one of those that had abused him had also been posted to Coninsby alongside him. It will come as no surprise that his abuser continued to blackmail and abuse him there.
As Mac explained, abuse is all about control and compliance, and despite some people’s views of abuse, the perpetrators themselves were/are not homosexual (some of Mac’s abusers are still alive.)
They were heterosexuals who were not doing it for sexual pleasure, they were doing it for sexual control. It was a form of bullying. It was a form of abusive control.
LIVING WITH THE SHAME
Mac recalled how, out of desperation, he spoke with his father and asked for him to take him home. His father, ex-forces, told Mac that whatever the problem was, he should get through it as it would “make a man of you, you’ll be better for it.”
As with many survivors, Mac retained his silence for many years because of the shame he felt, but also because his sexuality would have seen him immediately arrested under military rules. It wasn’t until 1998 that Mac finally disclosed his abuse to a psychiatrist, and three months before his death in 2000 and now fully aware of what his son had endured, Mac’s father apologised for what he said.
Over the years Mac contacted several of his abusers to ask them why they had abused him. Two responded by bizarrely sending copies of their wedding pictures (as if that somehow denied or relinquished his claims.) However, one man ADMITTED what had happened to Thames Valley Police but claimed that they were ‘consensual.’
The Crown Immunity Act protects the Crown and Ministry of Defence from prosecution over anything that happened prior to 1987. Under Military Law, the victim becomes the criminal and this was reinforced to Mac two years ago when he received a letter from Thames Valley Police, who told him that despite 22 incidents of abuse on their records, they would not proceed with pressing charges against one of his abusers because Mac would be considered a criminal too.
Mac has since met others from different areas of the armed forces whom also endured the same abuse as Mac. One of those he spoke to was a 93-year old man who was gang raped by four NCOs on 2nd June 1944 aged just 17-years old whilst he was in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and posted to Chatham at the time.
The Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) refers to service rather than abuse, so is not applicable in many cases, and despite there being numerous military lawyers in the UK advertising themselves as ‘No Win No Fee’, they refuse to take on abuse cases. Many abusers refused to take responsibility and/or, as we have seen time and again, were subsequently awarded honours. Mac has also written to every Defence Secretary and Veterans Minister since 2010 to no avail.
Refusing to give up, Mac decided to approach IICSA to ask them to look into the abuse within the military.
IICSA has refused to undertake an inquiry into military abuse with the excuse that government issued an apology to homosexual recruits who were disadvantaged in the armed forces up to 2000, and they consider that to be enough. This is a shockingly ignorant stance to take by them of all people – they’ve completely disregarded the issue of both child and sexual abuse within the forces. Children cannot consent. Mac was one of many other children who, whilst under the ‘care’ of the military, was horribly abused. Choosing to rape or abuse a child or adult is not due to a sexual orientation or in any way consensual – it is abuse and this issue comes well within the remit of IICSA. Even after the age of 16, Mac was not giving his consent and coercion is illegal.
Just like the children’s homes of Northern Ireland such as Kincora, the government has become choosy about which abuse settings it wishes to look into. This is not the ‘leaving no stone unturned‘ that the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, promised survivors. It’s unjust.
IS THERE A COVER UP?
Mac is adamant that ex-forces that sit in the House of Lords, and ex-forces MPs in the House of Commons that many of them knew during their military careers that sexual abuse was rife, and that they allowed the issue to be covered up and thus allowed it to continue. Mac names the following:
General, Lord Richard Dannatt (House of Lords) – Head of the Army in the late 1990s, Military Intelligence Liaison Officer in Northern Ireland at the time the Kincora scandal broke.
Lord Alan West (House of Lords) – Head of the Navy, against any investigation into the armed forces.
LIVING WITH ABUSE
The mental and physical trauma that Mac endured as a child and young man remains with him to this day. He suffers with complex PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Fibromyalgia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, as well as skin cancer, all of which are recognised by specialists as symptoms of abuse.
Mac simply wants the Ministry of Defence to follow the example shown by the Australians in 2012 when the government and Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, issued a full and frank apology to survivors of abuse, and instigated an inquiry into military child/recruit sexual abuse, with 2,000 cases initially looked into. Mac also wishes to see police given the powers to prosecute perpetrators of military abuse, and for Professor Jay, chair of IICSA, to agree to undertake an inquiry into military child abuse.
A voice for those without…
In St Michael’s churchyard at Halton and with Commonwealth War Grave headstones, lay the bodies of apprentices who committed suicide due to the abuse they endured. They lay side-by-side with senior NCO’s – their abusers.
Mac continues his fight for justice for them all.