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Returning Home a Whistleblower

Hopefully you’re reading this after my first blog about Afghanistan titled ‘Why Military leadership is poor.’

On the return flight from Kabul I felt sick. Usually I try and get some shut eye, just because the journey is a long one, but there was none of that on that flight. Not only being returned under some sort of cloud. I had been left with the apprehension I had done something wrong. I had certainly annoyed more than a few people in Kabul.


I didn’t even consider myself a whistleblower at this stage. I just knew I had reported something I wasn’t comfortable with and it wasn’t well received. I also thought, ‘what will people think?’ Not that I am overly concerned what people think. I tend to be a rather forthright character in life and I don’t suffer fools. I just deal with things as I see them, and this was no different.

But in the darkness of my thoughts, I drifted constantly to, ‘why me?’

Why was I the one who decided to ‘break ranks’ and report. What was different about my decision making? Let’s be frank. In worklife there’s lots of people sitting in offices creating process maps for this and that. It’s all generally garbage. The UK Police National Decision Model is one such piece of ‘corporate’ garbage. It’s a model that tries to inculcate a way of thinking to make sure staff stick to the agenda of making defenceable decisions.

At the end of every day and in the morning, if I can look in the mirror and know what I did, I did for all the right reasons I don’t need a ‘model’ to get me to understand the complexities of adult life. I just need experience and morals that guide me through it.

But I couldn’t shake this one. It was a momentous decision I took and it had long reaching ramifications not only in Kabul but also London where the Stabilisation Unit (the unit that deployed me) were doing their level best to look like they cared. I repeatedly asked for updates as to what was happening. They constantly ignored me. They focused on what my contract said and whether they could ship me back to the police and get me off their books.

To be fair to them, they were significantly misled by the Military, and disappointingly the UK senior Police in Afghanistan. I found out, about 10 to 12 months after I got back in the UK, that ‘Steve’ the retired Detective Superintendent had well and truly stabbed me in the back. Not only did he sit silent in the meeting with the Colonel immediately post my email alerting illegal operations, he replied by email to me copying in the Colonel after it. In the email he accused me of failing to investigative, shooting from the hip and being emotive. He asked me not to involve him in my accusations in future.

Quite the turnaround. Because it was him telling me the operations were illegal. And it was him that informed me about the drone footage showing the killings. And it was him constantly moaning about Military colleagues when we went for coffee. And it was him being repeatedly ridiculed by military command. Rolling their eyes at him from behind his back. He was responsible for senior police advice to the Command team. And he failed at it spectacularly. So much so it was me that did the job he was incapable of completing. Informing them what they were involved in was unacceptable.

His role in this sorry saga was central. An aging man who should never have been in Afghanistan. He had the IT skills of a four year old and the command team repeatedly mocked him. I helped him prepare documents and powerpoints because it was beyond him. He networked among the Afghans in senior positions, people he knew from previous deployments, but I saw little real product from him that would change what he was there to do. Advise the Command Team how to run a civil police force and maintain some sort of legality.

When I received his email admonishing me, it took the wind out of me. I really didn’t expect it from him. What to do…

I thought about it all day and then decided to double down on what I had originally sent. I wasn’t going to be cyber bullied into silence and have accusations thrown at me that were duplicitous and inaccurate. I sent a second email to the Colonel. In it I expressed that Steve was the one raising the issues and I asked him to answer some questions. Questions because I now WAS investigating the operations as I had 24 hours earlier been accused of not being capable of doing. I asked:

  1. What operations coalition staff were going on and whether they had a lawful warrant?
  2. What coalition equipment or staff were supporting illegal operations?
  3. Whether any coalition staff had been present when unarmed men had been killed?
  4. And whether coalition men had been present when no evidence was recovered from the scene?

Amongst other questions. The Colonel never denied anything. He just refused to answer me. It was this email that caused ‘Steve’ to consult with other more senior UK police in Afghanistan. I have no record of what was said between them. Nor do I know who they were because in the subject access requests I made, nonewere from these grey cops. But it is this meeting that resulted in me being sent back to the UK. I can only suggest, that because Steve was so duplicitous with me, he was with them also.

What should have happened was Ishould have been sent to the British Embassy in Kabul while a full inquiry was conducted. The BEK wasn’t even notified to my knowledge. The Stabilistation Unit were told in the UK to arrange a flight to the UK and that I would be on it the following morning. They were told I was isolated, suffering mental health issues and armed. The final sentence ‘and armed’…

What was the intened outcome of that sentence? To make the SU believe I was going to harm myself or others.

Yet, when that email was sent, I still had possession of my side-arm. And I had it all night before handing it in the following morning. Maybe they thought I was only going to start randomly killing people in the morning, that of course, I wouldn’t do that overnight, would I. As a long standing serving Cop, that was the most disgusting slur I have ever faced. And believe me Ihave faced lots of disgusting slurs. The difference with this one is it was being said by so called professionals, lying through their back teeth.

When I got back to the UK I tried my level best to resolve things with the SU and FCO (Foreign Office) without invoking officaldum. I asked, ‘What communications are coming out of Kabul that identify why I was sent home?’ I now know they actually didn’t know. They knew I had sent some emails. They knew I was armed and dangerous (really?), but they didn’t know the content of the emails. It was only when I received the Whistleblowing policy that I thought, oh my god, I am a whistleblower! I tried to get them to divulge the reasons, in writing why I had been removed. I was seething by this point. Seething that I did what Steve couldn’t and I paid the price. I knew I was right but I was concerned they would just ignore my concerns and carry on killing people.

So I eventually sent FOI requests to the SU, the FCO and the MOD. Now the gloves were off, there was a palpable change in the way they handled me. One email a month. Just saying I was still on contract as they left me sitting at home on gardening leave.

When I eventually started to get the FOI request data through, I sifted through the emails and reports. I found a report I believe written by the Colonel confirming the drone footage and an investigation had commenced into it. It confirmed the killings (plural) of targets who were unarmed. I also found emails confirming all partnered operations had stopped while a full review into the legality of them was conducted. So the Afghans were still operational, still using coalition assets, and probably still killing people without a warrant.

This provided me with some level of acceptance that what I had done was worth it. That, at least, I had caused a stop to the activity and the drone footage was being investigated. But let’s face it. Aghanistan isn’t the place you want your trial conducting. I did what I did and I can’t control the veracity of what went on afterwards. If people want to run their lives with their heads in the sand while illegal activity is ongoing then that’s a matter for them.

I can hold my head high.

I have decided to write these two blog articles because what happened to me is going on around the UK happening to others. Where people report things when they’re wrong but leaders in corporate and public life decide to protect the organisations they run and retaliate against the reporting person. It is wrong. We should all support whistleblowers because they go to places others don’t have the guts to. They stand up and they’re counted.

Leaders are often inculcated to protect their positions. They don’t always think of the ramifications of the stance they take.

The Post Office

Lucy Letby

There are lots more. If this article motivates leaders reading it to recognise a trait of protecting their organisation before the people in it or impacted by it, then that’s a good thing. We can all spend some time looking in the mirror. It’s easy to get wrapped up in things at work and they creep up on you. You suddenly see things not from a position of morality but from a position of corporate or career success.

Don’t be that person.

Do the right thing for yourself, your team and the people your organisation touches.

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