Lawyer dismisses claim as ‘harmless horseplay between friends’
Two soldiers in the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment have been accused of carrying out a “persistent” bullying campaign against a Northern Irish colleague, including hurling abuse at him about the IRA and car bombs.
Troopers Maxwell Nicholls and Declan Coutts also allegedly put trooper Scott Alexander in chokeholds and headlocks, repeatedly soaked his bed with water and stole his ironing board and boots, a court martial was told.
Mr Nicholls, who is English, and Mr Coutts, who is Scottish, are also accused of racially abusing a Muslim colleague, Azaan Aziz-Sheikh, with the former alleged to have called him a “black-faced p***” and both are alleged to have assaulted him.
Asked about the extent of the abuse by the panel, Mr Alexander, who speaks with a strong Northern Irish accent, said he felt “demoralised” and pleaded with Mr Coutts and Mr Nicholls to stop, but added “it didn’t make a difference, they thought it was funny”.
Totalt, Mr Nicholls and Mr Coutts are accused of a string of nine charges relating to alleged incidents that took place between July and November in 2020.
Lieutenant Matthew Poulsom, prosecuting, told Bulford Military Court: “Nicholls and Coutts launched a persistent bullying campaign against [Mr Alexander]. On multiple occasions they would pin him down, sit on his chest, strangle and choke him, and made racially abusive comments. They frequently made racial slurs against him being Northern Irish, referencing the IRA in a derogatory manner.”
Speaking about a specific alleged incident, which he said happened on 30 oktober 2020, Lt Poulsom claimed that while in a Windsor pub, Mr Nicholls shouted racially abusive comments at Mr Aziz-Sheikh. Mr Nicholls and Mr Coutts allegedly went on to assault him when they all returned to Windsor’s Combermere Barracks.
“Nicholls assaulted him by shoving him in the head and immediately after Nicholls sat down and made abusive comments about [Tpr Aziz-Sheikh’s] Muslim faith," han sa.
Giving evidence, Mr Alexander said his relationship with his roommates became “unpleasant” within a week. Han sa: “I had slurs used against me after they picked up on my accent. Lots of derogatory terms were used. Terms about car bombs, I was called Gerry Adams, and they would say I was in the IRA. I believe it was said in quite a targeted manner, not in a banterish way.”
Eleanor Lucas, a lawyer representing Mr Nicholls, said the behaviour was “harmless horseplay between friends”. She also showed the court videos of Mr Alexander taking part in group pranks and photos of him allegedly wearing a T-shirt with the nickname “terrorist” on.
Cathryn Sutcliffe, for Mr Coutts, accused Mr Alexander of “making it up as he goes along”.
Mr Alexander continued by explaining how, at first, he “took it on the chin” but struggled to cope. Han sa: “I would constantly say, ‘Leave it out’ or tell them to grow up. It became more physical. There were headlocks, chokeholds, they would sit on my chest and pin me down. I would be lying on my bed and they would come and jump on me.”
Jamie Bartlett, another trainee soldier who was drinking in a Wetherspoons pub with the soldiers on the night of 30 oktober, claimed he heard Mr Nicholls call Mr Aziz-Sheikh a “f****ng little brown man”.
Mr Nicholls and Mr Coutts both face one charge of racially aggravated battery on Mr Alexander as well as an alternative charge of battery. The pair also face a conduct charge relating to alleged racial abuse towards Mr Alexander.
Mr Nicholls is charged with two counts of religiously aggravated assault by beating and two alternative counts of battery, all relating to alleged attacks on Mr Aziz-Sheikh. Mr Coutts is charged with battery of Mr Aziz-Sheikh. They deny all the charges.
The trial continues.
Additional reporting by Solent News