Passing the buck

Passing the buck

Passing the buck

In March 2012 Capita signed the landmark deal pledging to overhaul and improve recruitment across the armed forces in a £1.3 billion recruiting partnership project. In 2019 it was recognised that this had failed but was the failure down to Capita alone, or is the way the MoD looks after its veterans a serious factor in a recruits decision not to proceed? Philip Ingram highlights how the MoD is just passing the buck, making someone else responsible for the people it has broken.
The Armed Forces strategy published in November 2018 was designed to fix the incoherent approach to veteran’s support across the country and set the foundations for a bright future. But has it, or is it perpetuating the issues, just more clearly?

The Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust is the independent Trust that manages the Armed Forces Covenant Fund of £10 million per annum that is there to support our veterans but where does it go, what does it do and what is the strategy behind it?

The new Armed Forces strategy says, “It is right that we as a nation – government, charities, business and the wider public – support and empower those who have served us in our Armed Forces. We have a long history of doing this in the UK, and it remains our duty to support those who step up to serve this country.”

“Each nation within the UK will assess how they deliver the Strategy in line with local needs and delivery mechanisms.” This means differential treatment depending on local resources and priorities, it is a post code lottery for standards of help and support.”

The Strategy recognises potential issues when it says, “veterans often receive support from many different organisations, across the public, private and charitable sectors. Each time Veterans engage with a new service provider, they may have to repeat their circumstances and historic experiences.”

“This Strategy takes account of the fact that Veterans exist within a wider community of family and friends. It also considers the families of those who have died whilst serving.” Yet Veterans UK and many of the charities will not deal with third parties so where does the ability of the wider community and family come into play, how is this supposed to happen?

It’s legal

The strategy goes on to say, “the Armed Forces Covenant, which was enshrined in law in the Armed Forces Act (2011), has at its core the principles that Service Personnel, Veterans, and their families are not disadvantaged by their Service and that special provision is made for those who have sacrificed the most, including the injured and the bereaved.” So, by failing the Armed Forces Covenant the MoD must be liable for those failures and is leaving itself wide open to class actions for its continued failings.

It adds, “while the Ministry of Defence does provide some services directly to many Veterans, most services accessed by Veterans are delivered by wider public services. The type and remit of provision offered by each public body reflects its wider role within the public sector. The Ministry of Defence has a shared moral obligation and leadership role for Veterans’ issues, delivered by the Minister for Defence People and Veterans on behalf of the Secretary of State for Defence, and in practice the responsibility is delivered across governments. The Ministerial Covenant and Veterans Board agrees priorities and coordinates activities for the UK Government, working with the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and government in Northern Ireland to enable the best outcomes for Veterans wherever they are in the UK.”

In reality this process is so far above the delivery of support and is then added to a long list of priorities and coordinated activities that it get lost in the sea of reality. There is no consistency across the country, between charities or agencies, there is no handover mechanism to ensure a continuity of care once one funding line is finished, there are no coherent mechanisms to manage complex cases. Yet, the MoD had held its high level meetings, so responsibility has been passed.

The Veterans Strategy goes on to say, “public sector services are delivered to Veterans by a combination of local authorities, devolved government and the UK Government, creating a complex picture across the UK.” But no element takes responsibility for coordinating that delivery between the elements of what the MoD calls a ‘complex picture’, what hope is there for a veteran to do so?

In what can only be described as management buzz word babble it says, “the establishment of clearer, consistent principles and aims across the UK will help to ensure that a Veteran’s experience remains consistent with that of the other citizens.” But what is different is no other citizens have been by dint of their employment put in such situations as one of their job roles is to lose their life if necessary, veterans are not just like other citizens in many ways! There seems to be no Role for the MOD?

The Strategy outlines “The role of the charitable sector” when it says, “the UK has a strong and vibrant Armed Forces charitable sector, which supplements the core essential services provided by the public sector, by providing additional and/or bespoke services. Charities provide specialist services for Veterans and the bereaved on a range of issues (including: information helplines, healthcare, and housing) throughout the UK, based on their own organisational eligibility criteria.” Then we have the role of the Private sector but nothing on the role of the MoD? That is a clear derision of responsibility. No-where does it outline where distressed veterans can guarantee to get coherent help across organisations and agencies.

To try and deal with the issues surrounding the £1.3 Billion wasted by the Capita saga, and their woes may not be of all of their making with such a clear example of MoD not caring for service leavers, the military are spending millions on new recruiting campaigns that on the surface are brilliant, but one negative story wasted a large percentage of that recruiting spend.

We have a Veteran’s strategy that passes the buck, we have controversy over legacy prosecutions, we have books, Double Crossed, by Brian Wood MC, The Battle Within by Neil Spencer and Broken By War by Anthony Lock, all recently published and highlighting failings by the MoD.

According to ITV, “71 serving military personnel and veterans who took their own lives in 2018 following mental health struggles. The death toll exceeds the number.” That statistic of more than one per week continues and last weekend the friend of a veteran on crisis reached out to the wider community after hitting silence with veterans charities and failure by the NHS. Hopefully that individual wont become another statistic, but there are plenty more who will.

The result of the strategy is we have wounded service personnel falling in their current field of battle, and believe me having suffered it is a field of battle, being left whilst the MoD, charities, public sector agencies either walk by and don’t notice or debate who should do what and write papers about it whilst spending more on trying to recruit their replacement than they are spending on dealing with veterans. Newtons law is for every force there has to be an equal and opposite force, well for the recruiting and retention force, the Veterans Strategy is the opposite force, except it is stronger and growing!

Skripal and Salisbury an infamous combination

Skripal and Salisbury an infamous combination

Skripal and Salisbury an infamous combination

It is now a year since Colonel Dr Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, traveling under the false identities of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, both members of the Russian Military Intelligence Service, the GRU, entered Britain through Gatwick airport. They had a deadly intent, kill the double agent who was living in the sleepy city of Salisbury, Sergei Skripal, using the deadly nerve agent Novichok.

Their mission was a simple one but had been carefully planned. Sergei Skripal’s daughter Yulia was landing at Heathrow airport to visit her father and be with him on what would have been her late brother Alexander’s birthday. Her emails and probably her phone, were being monitored by Russian intelligence and they would have known her arrangements in detail.

After checking into a cheap East End of London hotel Mishkin and Chepiga waited until the next morning to take the train to Salisbury from Waterloo, to carry out a final ‘close target recce’ of Sergei Skripal’s house in Christie Millar Road.

Their detailed movements in Salisbury that day have not been revealed completely but it is probably that, in their possession they had a detailed ‘pattern of life’ study on Sergei Skripal, possibly delivered to their hotel, so they knew his normal routine. They knew he left his house through the front door, not the side or back door, they knew he pulled it shut by the handle, not the door frame, they knew everything about him because others will have spent time watching him closely, studying his movements, reading his emails, listening into his phone conversations.

Mishkin and Chepiga’s trip to Salisbury on Saturday 3rdMarch 2018 would be to confirm the route to take to Sergei Skripal’s house from Salisbury Station, look for signs of him being watched by British Intelligence, confirm their escape plan and possibly meet with at least one member of the team that carried out the ‘pattern of life study,’ before returning to London.

Early on Sunday 4thMarch, Mishkin and Chepiga return to Salisbury with a fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume bottle filled with deadly Novichok in Russia having replaced the cap with a special applicator that morning. On arrival in Salisbury they quickly retrace the route they checked out the day before and approached Sergei Skripals house to smear the deadly agent onto his front door.

Whilst it is possible it was dispensed directly from the modified perfume bottle the danger of ‘splash back’ would have meant putting it onto a wipe and smearing that onto the door handle would be safer; we don’t know if this is what they did.  Both Mishkin and Chepiga will have been wearing protective gloves and it is probable that Mishkin carried self-injecting epi pens filled with a nerve agent antidote, atropine, just in case anything went wrong.

This is where their movements become a bit of a blur. At some point they will have taken their contaminated gloves off and disposed of them, that is probably the point they dropped the fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume bottle and exactly where all of this happened is not known publicly yet, neither are the details of their movements around Salisbury before catching the train back to London and then to Heathrow. How and where they disposed of their contaminated gloves has never been mentioned and the fate of the fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume is too well known when Charlie Rowley gave it to his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess on 30thJune 2018 and she sprayed its contents onto her skin, exposing herself to a lethal dose of Novichok.

Just after the attack on 15thMarch 2018, I asked the MET police who had taken over the investigation, what had happened to the items the ‘would be’ assassins had used and was met with silence, I published my concerns here: in the Sunday papers. Statements from Public Health England said the risk to the public was very low, Dawn Sturgess paid with her life months later.

The detail of where Charlie Rowley found the contaminated perfume bottle and when he found it are unclear. It is distinctly possible he found it in early March and put it in his bag, forgetting it was there until he unpacked after moving into new accommodation from a homeless shelter in June.

I now repeat my question, what happed to the gloves they will have worn? I suspect they were put in a local bin and the next day taken by the council to landfill so are now safely disposed of, but no one has said.

Why Sergei Skripal?

The most important point to start with is the reason for the attack on Sergei Skripal. It was not done first and foremost to kill him, it was assumed, given the deadly nature of Novichok, that he would die. However, if that were the sole motivation then he would have been shot, stabbed or had a car accident. Sergei Skripal was a vehicle used to send a message to any Putin dissenters across the globe that he could get them anywhere, any time and in a horrible way. Prime Minister May hinted to this in an answer to a question after her statement in the House of Commons on 5thSep 2018.

The second reason was to stir a nationalistic fervour into his Presidential campaign domestically by having a reason to say the west was attacking poor Russia.  Remember the attack happened exactly 14 days before the Russian Presidential election and opposition parties and oligarchs were becoming more threatening to Mr Putin’s position and his desire for an increased majority.

Sergei Skripal was chosen because Salisbury in next to DSTL Porton Down, the UK’s chemical defence laboratory and this allowed an element of plausible deniability where President Putin could claim that this was set up to undermine him in the eyes of the international community.

Of note, this is exactly the messaging that came out in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The Russians have a doctrine called маскировка (maskirovka) which is all about ‘masking’ or deception and is central to all they do.  The Russian people have an unhealthy belief in conspiracy theories and that the west is out to get them no matter what and this played into President Putin’s domestic messaging.

Putin and the GRU will have been surprised at the tenacity of the UK’s counter-terror police and Security Services investigation and the level of detail they have managed to ascertain. The public exposure of Mishkin and Chepiga by the investigative website Bellingcat will have severely embarrassed the GRU.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal will now be under the protection of MI5 and being held safely out of the public eye. They will be receiving further medical support for their physical and mental symptoms. Their futures will be being discussed with them and they are an integral part of any and all decisions about what happens next. For Yulia, a complete innocent who had a bright career and future, it must be particularly hard.

What are we missing?

We are missing detail what the police believe happened to other contaminated items, we are missing detail around the movements of Mishkin and Chepiga around Salisbury, very little footage from the city’s new £450,000 public space CCTV has been released, we are missing details of the team that will have carried out the pattern of life study, we are missing details of what Mishkin and Chepiga did in London.

However, we have to remember there is a politically sensitive, highly complex live murder investigation ongoing, so it is unlikely much of this detail will be released because we don’t need to know. A comment on the contaminated detritus to build further public confidence would be good however.

We have to recognise the huge effort the police, security service, ambulance, fire and rescue, NHS, military personnel, DSTL scientists, civilian security staff and council workers have put in to deal with every aspect of this ongoing spy story. If it were not for their professionalism and coordinated effort there would almost certainly be more deaths and much longer lasting consequences for Salisbury and its surrounds.

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer and Colonel, who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE