[British] Sub commander 'bullied crew' on secret mission

January 7th, 2006  

Topic: [British] Sub commander 'bullied crew' on secret mission

The Times| 1/7/6 | Michael Evans

THE commanding officer of a Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine has been charged with bullying members of his crew while engaged in a highly sensitive secret mission. Captain Robert Kenneth Tarrant is due to appear before a court martial in Portsmouth on Monday but the details of the case are considered by the Ministry of Defence to be so sensitive that the trial may be held partly in camera.

According to military legal sources, Judge Jack Bayliss, the Judge Advocate who is to take the case, has indicated that the whole trial may have to be held in secret. Underlining the sensitivity of the case, the MoD refused yesterday to give any details of the court martial, including the name of the officer, the submarine that he was commanding and the precise nature of the charges.

However, The Times has learnt that Captain Tarrant was the commanding officer of the Trafalgar Class, nuclear-powered submarine HMS Talent when a number of his crew alleged that he had verbally abused them.
Defence sources said that the allegations did not involve physical abuse. It is understood that up to five crew members have accused Captain Tarrant of abusive treatment, and that he has been charged under the Naval Discipline Act. Captain Tarrant is no longer the submarine’s commander, and now has a senior Navy appointment at the MoD’s head office in London.

Naval sources said that for commanding officers in a surface ship or submarine, there had to be a careful line between running a tight regime and using abusive or domineering language. It was also true, they said, that Armed Forces personnel were now more aware of their rights, and more likely to make allegations against senior officers if they felt that the line had been overstepped.

Legal sources with knowledge of the case said that the alleged incidents had occurred during a period of high tension on board the submarine while it was engaged in a sensitive mission. One of the reasons for the application for the court martial to be held in camera is the MoD’s reluctance to make public either the nature of the mission or the location of the submarine at the time of the allegations.

Like other nuclear-powered attack submarines, one of the roles of HMS Talent is to protect the Navy’s four Trident ballistic missile submarines, one of which is on patrol every day of the year, maintaining Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. HMS Talent is due this year to be fitted with Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles.

In 2004, two crew members of HMS Trafalgar were investigated for disobedience. Eleven crew members were also put ashore after voicing concerns about safety on board the submarine. Ministers subsequently denied that there had been any grounds for their concern and said that rigorous checks had been carried out.

Also in 2004, the commanding officer of a Royal Navy frigate, HMS Somerset, was relieved of command after allegations that he had verbally bullied two crew members. Commander David Axon was investigated, but did not face a court martial.

The Navy said that the investigation had found that Commander Axon’s leadership and management style fell “significantly short of the exemplary standards the Royal Navy requires of its commanding officers”. He was transferred to a desk job.

A Chief Petty Officer from HMS Talent is also facing possible disciplinary charges after allegedly arriving for duty on Christmas Day “stinking of drink”. The submarine is in refit at Devonport dockyard, in Plymouth. The officer, in his forties, was escorted off the submarine. An investigation has begun.
HMS TALENT Commissioned: May 1990 Crew: 18 officers and 112 ratings Displacement: 4,740 tonnes Length: 280ft (85m) Beam: 32ft (9.75m) Speed: underwater, 32 knots (37mph)