Heroes of war fall victim to trauma

A war veteran, jailed over an incident brought on by trauma, is seeking judicial review of his treatment. Roger Pearson reports.

The Courts martial treatment of service personnel who commit offences while suffering from medical symptoms brought on as a result of active service is to be scrutinised in a High Court test case to be heard later this year.

The man at the centre of the action is former Scots Guards lance-sergeant Alex Findlay, a Falklands War hero. Findlay pleaded guilty to seven charges arising from an incident in 1990 while he was serving in Londonderry. He held members of his unit at gunpoint after a drinking session, threatening to kill himself and some of them. During the incident, two shots were fired into a television before he surrendered his pistol.

Despite psychiatric evidence at his court-martial that the incident resulted from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by his experiences in the Falklands War, he was jailed for two years and dismissed from the army.

During the war Findlay saw several of his friends killed or badly injured and was injured himself. And, during Operation Tumbledown, one of the bloodiest battles of the war, he saved a comrade's life by performing an emergency tracheotomy to prevent the man drowning in his own blood.

Now Findlay, who has since received a £100,000 out-of-court settlement from the Ministry of Defence over its failure to diagnose and treat his PTSD, has been given leave by Mr Justice Sedley to seek judicial review of the way he was treated by the army over the incident.

The challenge will be backed by a European Court of Human Rights decision in February this year in which it was held that the British courts-martial system did not ensure a fair trial.

Granting leave, Mr Justice Sedley referred to the treatment of shell-shocked troops during World War One.

Findlay's solicitor advocate John Mackenzie, a specialist in litigation involving service personnel at Sheratte Caleb & Co, echoes the judge's comments.

Mackenzie, who is representing about 50 Falklands veterans in claims against the MoD, says comparisons can be made between the days when shell-shocked soldiers were shot for desertion and Findlay's treatment. The difference is that the psychiatric effects of war were not recognised during the World War One but are now medically proven.

"It is disconcerting that the British Army has made no progress since the second decade of the century," he says.