The parents of three teenagers who complained of mistreatment at the army’s foundation college have called for it to be shut down, listing a catalogue of alleged abuse and claiming their children were prevented from leaving the military.
They include the mother of a teen who died last year while serving in the army, whose alleged abuse is to be examined as part of an inquiry into his death.
The testimonies of the parents, which have been seen by the Guardian, are to be raised by the Child Rights International Network (CRIN) in a letter challenging Ofsted on why last month it rated the foundation college as “outstanding”.
Staff at the Army Foundation College (AFC) were accused in 50 cases of assaulting or mistreating teenage recruits between 2014 e 2017, the Guardian reported in 2018. Subsequent papers released under the Freedom of Information Act and in parliament have revealed that recruits and their parents made 60 complaints of violent behaviour by staff at AFC between 2014 e 2020.
Last Thursday an instructor at the college was demoted at a court martial after being convicted of punching two teenage soldiers. Cpl Kimberley Hey was acquitted of six other charges of battery relating to three other soldiers.
The parents have spoken out about their children’s involvement with the college as part of wider calls to end recruitment of under-18s by the British army – one of the few militaries in the developed world to allow it – and as peers seek to amend a bill making its way through parliament to raise the recruitment age to 18.
Alison Blackwell, who is waiting for an MoD inquiry into her son Nathan Worner’s death to report back next year, said he went from being a confident and resilient person to being withdrawn and desperate to leave the army.
He alleged having been hit, slapped, pushed, kicked and verbally abused by staff during the first phase of his training at the AFC, and at 17 handed in a letter saying he wanted to leave. She said it was ripped up in his face.
“He said he didn’t expect to be faced with the disgusting way they were mistreated at Harrogate. He described the staff as animals that got off on hurting and humiliating people and that Harrogate should be shut down,” she said of her son, who was found dead at his army barracks in May last year.
Charlotte Poad, the mother of a young soldier who has said three friends who trained with him at the college took their own lives, said her son returned from Harrogate a “completely different person” and was discharged from the army on mental health grounds just over a year ago after a long struggle.
She said her son struggled to talk about what happened at the AFC, but she and her husband believed that staff bullied and abused young recruits and encouraged fighting among them. Recruits were also made to spend many hours alone on guard duty, which affected their mental health, lei disse.
“I strongly believe that the Army Foundation College does not look after children’s mental health or wellbeing. It is an outdated institution where bullies thrive and adults seek pleasure in seeing children broken,” Poad said.
Another parent, Kevin, who does not want to identified by his full name, said his son came home “broken and exhausted” shortly after enlisting at 16. He says what followed was a struggle to get him out.
“In our conversations, we had to constantly remind officers that he was only 16 and in our care, even though he had sworn an oath to the British army. [UN] major conceded in the end, but then another officer indicated that our son would be charged with going awol, and said that he would never get a job or go to another college or university. Ancora, we were incensed – more phone calls.”
Charlotte Cooper, the campaigns coordinator at CRIN, disse: “AFC has a long record of formal complaints of violent abuse by its staff against the young people in its care, Compreso 10 such allegations since 2017, and Ofsted inspectors don’t think it worth mentioning. I think teenagers and their parents would be shocked to know that an institution rated ‘outstanding’ had AFC’s record of violence against children by instructors.”
An army spokesperson said: “We have a very strong duty of care and safeguarding mechanisms at AFC Harrogate to ensure junior soldiers have the right support structure and welfare provision, including confidential support lines. AFC Harrogate, alongside all phase 1 and phase 2 training organisations, are subject to Ofsted inspection on a routine basis.”
The college was awarded an overall grade of “outstanding” after an inspection in May as part of the 2020/21 inspection cycle into welfare and duty of care in armed forces initial training.
An Ofsted spokesperson said it inspected the welfare of recruits and trainees against the criteria set out in an inspection handbook for armed forces training establishments.
“The inspection team were aware of the concerns raised by CRIN. tuttavia, we do not investigate individual complaints, but we will always take onboard any received as part of our inspection,” they said.
“Our inspectors met with recruits at different stages of training to discuss their experiences of care, welfare and training. E, al tempo, all recruits were highly positive about their training, as well as the treatment and support they received from staff.”