Defence secretary has ‘full and frank’ talk with top general on women in army and bullying allegations

Britain’s defence secretary and his top general said they had a “full and frank” discussion about a range of challenges facing the army – from a failure to ensure enough women enjoy careers to allegations of bullying, harassment and even questions around a murder in Kenya.

Serious problems surrounding the multi-billion-pound procurement of a new fleet of light tanks were also thought to have been covered in the extraordinary meeting of the army board on Monday.

“We had a full and frank discussion about a range of issues,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, the head of the army, said in a joint statement.

“The British Army is only as good as the people who serve in it and the leadership exhibited by officers and senior non-commissioned officers,” they said.

“Recent events have brought to light important issues that require all our people to play their part in resolving.

“We agreed that together we will address these core and cultural issues.

“Later this month the Army will set out exciting new plans for its future structure and deployments. It is an exciting offer and the Army should be proud of the work it has done.”

Mr Wallace had summoned the chief of the general staff, his deputy and a number of other senior officers to the meeting at the Ministry of Defence’s main building in London after becoming concerned about claims involving the army.

They included a landmark report by MPs on the defence select committee in July that explored cases of rape and sexual assault. Renewed questions have also been raised about the 2012 death of a Kenyan woman who was last seen with British soldiers in Kenya.

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Speaking last Thursday, the defence secretary told Sky News it was vital to create the right kind of culture.

“We have got to make sure the army is picking the right leaders, the future leaders. We have got to make sure we are doing more than enough to make sure we have women welcome in the army and enjoy a future career in the army,” he said.

“We are woefully behind the rest – not only of parts of the armed forces – but the rest of the public sector. We have to do more on that front.”

Mr Wallace was critical of how the military handles allegations of abuse, harassment and bullying.

“We have to make sure we have a justice system fit for future as well,” he said.

The military justice system has repeatedly been criticised for taking far too long to consider allegations of wrong-doing and for allowing the armed forces effectively to be judge and jury – without sufficiently empowered independent oversight.

Another area of concern is the army’s record on equipment purchases.

One of the most troubling procurements is the £5.5 billion Ajax light tank programme. It has been beset with glitches, including delays in the delivery and trials twice being suspended after troops reported hearing problems because of the vibration.

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