Exclusive: Families angry at proposal to lower profile of repatriation ceremonies
The armed forces should seek to make British involvement in future wars more palatable to the public by reducing the public profile of repatriation ceremonies for casualties, according to a Ministry of Defence unit that formulates strategy.
Other suggestions made by the MoD thinktank in a discussion paper examining how to assuage “casualty averse” public opinion include the greater use of mercenaries and unmanned vehicles, as well as the SAS and other special forces, because it says losses sustained by the elite soldiers do not have the same impact on the public and press.
The document, written in November 2012 and obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, discusses how public reaction to casualties can be influenced and recommends that the armed forces should have “a clear and constant information campaign in order to influence the major areas of press and public opinion”.
It says that to support such a campaign the MoD should consider a number of steps, one of which would be to “reduce the profile of the repatriation ceremonies” – an apparent reference to the processions of hearses carrying coffins draped in the union flag that were driven through towns near RAF bases where bodies were brought back.
For four years up to 2011, 345 servicemen killed in action were brought back to RAF Lyneham and driven through Royal Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, in front of crowds of mourners. Since then, bodies have been repatriated via RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, with hearses driven through nearby Carterton.
The MoD’s suggestion received a scathing reaction from some families of dead military personnel. Deborah Allbutt, whose husband Stephen was killed in a friendly fire incident in Iraq in 2003, described the proposals for repatriation ceremonies as “brushing the deaths under the carpet”.
She said: “They are fighting and giving their lives. Why should they be hidden away? It would be absolutely disgraceful.” Allbutt, with others, gained a landmark ruling this year that relatives of killed or injured soldiers can seek damages under human rights legislation.
The paper, by the MoD’s development, concepts and doctrine centre (DCDC), recommends taking steps to “reduce public sensitivity to the penalties inherent in military operations” and says the ministry should “inculcate an attitude that service may involve sacrifice and that such risks are knowingly and willingly undertaken as a matter of professional judgment”.
The paper amounts to what could be considered a prescient analysis of why the British public and MPs were so reluctant to support an attack on Syria. It also says that in any conflict the MoD should ensure that the reason for going to war is “clearly explained to the public”.
The eight-page paper argues that the military may have come to wrongly believe that the public, and as a result the government, has become more “risk averse” on the basis of recent campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“However, this assertion is based on recent, post-2000 experience and we are in danger of learning false …read more