Parents call for Harrogate army college to be closed after abuse claims
Last updated Nov 19, 2021
The Army Foundation College in Harrogate.

Three parents have called for Harrogate Army Foundation College to be closed after claiming their children were abused.

Alison Blackwell, Charlotte Poad and another parent, known only as Kevin, expressed their concerns to the Child Rights International Network, which is a think tank that focuses on the human rights of young people.

The college on Penny Pot Lane, which provides basic training for the British Army for 16 and 17-year-olds, was recently rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

CRIN sent an open letter to Ofsted yesterday questioning its rating and claiming the college is unsafe. The letter says:

“The ‘outstanding’ grade leads potential recruits and their parents to assume that the college offers the highest standard of care.

“With this open letter, we wish to repeat our concern that the college is unsafe, as evidenced by multiple formal complaints of abuse by staff, the routine use of stressors in training, and the imposition on recruits of legal obligations that deny them the right to leave at will.

“We believe that a civilian college with a similar record would be closed.”

The letter adds the army’s Joint Personnel Administration system had recorded 60 formal alleged incidents of violence against recruits aged under 18 by members of college staff since 2014, including assault and battery, and that 10 of the allegations were made since Ofsted’s inspection in 2017.

It also raises concerns about the college’s “very high attrition rate”, saying 30 percent of recruits aged under 18
drop out before they complete their training and that recruits have no legal right to leave during the first six weeks.

It claims the college operates daily use of physical and psychological stressors, such as the interruption of sleep and privacy and the use of humiliation to induce obedience.

Son died aged 17

Alison Blackwell is waiting for a Ministry of Defence inquiry into her son’s death. He died aged 17 while serving in the army.

She told the CRIN:

“My son told me he was hit, slapped, pushed, kicked and verbally abused by staff. He said he felt humiliated by this treatment and he never expected to be treated this way. He knew the training would be tough but this was abuse and the staff were power crazy.

“My son started drinking heavily and was very withdrawn, he rang me to tell me he was handing in his letter to leave. He told me his request was ripped up in his face. He was only 17 years old and devastated at not being able to leave. My son died last year while still serving in the army.”

Army Foundation College

Kevin, the father of a recruit who joined the college in 2015 said:

“My son had been bullied… he and the other recruits were talked down to, called the c-word and the f-word constantly, which seems at odds with AFC’s good Ofsted rating for health and well-being.

“I saw first-hand how the young soldiers were marched and drilled, brought into line. I saw lads who were limping, some with crutches, also being drilled and marched, trying in vain to keep up with the rest of the platoon. My son said that some keeled over and fainted as they marched and stood to attention.”

Charlotte Poad, whose son joined the college in 2016 said:

“I overheard several conversations with his fellow recruits discussing ‘bathroom beatings’ and ‘things going too far’. He also let slip he was actively encouraged to attend strip clubs by the staff members in charge of his group. We know that staff bullied and abused the young recruits, as well as encouraging fighting amongst peers.

“He is a completely different person since his time at Harrogate. He has attempted suicide and his mental health is permanently damaged.”

An instructor at the college was demoted at a court martial last week 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 court heard she told recruits, “you’re mine now, bitches” and punched teenage soldiers.

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The army’s response

An army spokesman said:

“We have very strong duty of care and safeguarding mechanisms at AFC (Harrogate) to ensure junior soldiers have the right support structures.  This includes multiple methods of accessing welfare support, including confidential support lines.

“We take every incident seriously and will refer an allegation to the Royal Military Police for investigation. We also have a Ministry of Defence police officer based at AFC (Harrogate) to assist in education and investigation.”

Last month’s Ofsted report praised the college for its “very good training .. immaculate facilities”.

It also gave positive feedback on its safeguarding saying the college investigated incidents throughly and made necessary improvements.

A new Commanding Officer was employed in July 2020, Lt Col Simon Farebrother MC, with a new vision for the college.

The report added his ethos of “emotional and psychological safety, inclusion and teamwork is firmly embedded” within the college.

Lt Col Farebrother said at the time:

“I’m absolutely delighted, the grade reflects the hard work of my military, civilian and contractor staff at all levels. I’m enormously proud of them, continuing to deliver throughout an extraordinarily challenging period.

“The junior soldiers depart with valuable qualifications, a bunch of new friends and walk into a brilliant career, full of opportunity.”



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