Navy medic ‘refused rifle training’

HEARING Royal Navy Leading Medical Assistant Michael Lyons, arrives at the HMS Nelson court martial centre at Portsmouth Naval Base.
HEARING Royal Navy Leading Medical Assistant Michael Lyons, arrives at the HMS Nelson court martial centre at Portsmouth Naval Base.
The Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov as seen from HMS Somerset in the Moray Firth

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A Royal Navy medic conscientious objector refused to undergo rifle training on “moral and ethical” grounds, a court martial trial heard today.

Leading Medical Assistant Michael Lyons is accused of a charge of wilful disobedience of a lawful order.

The hearing at Portsmouth Naval Base heard that the 24-year-old, from Plymouth, Devon, was sent for a pre-deployment course on how to use the SA80 service rifle at HMS Excellent, Portsmouth, on September 20 last year.

But when ordered to commence the course by Warrant Officer Robert Bainbridge in the presence of a military policeman, he refused and asked to be “rerolled on non-combative duties”, the hearing was told.

He objected as a medic to being trained to use a weapon and he believed that the war in Afghanistan was unlawful, the hearing was told.

The court also heard that at the time he was sent to start the weapons training course, he had lodged an appeal to be discharged as a conscientious objector and this was still to be heard by the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors (ACCO).

Commander Darren Reed, prosecuting, said that Lyons told police in interview that: “He felt he wasn’t able to carry out the order on moral and ethical grounds.

‘He did believe that was an unlawful order.’

Mr Bainbridge, who retired from the navy in April this year, said: ‘He felt the war in Afghanistan was unjust but I wasn’t there to send him to war, I was there to teach him how to use a rifle.’

He added that when Lyons refused, he then asked him if he had a medical reason not to join the course before ordering him back to his normal base at HMS Drake in Plymouth.

Regulating Police Officer James Houghton, who witnessed the order being given, said that Lyons was “polite at all times” and had simply stated his ‘moral objections’.

He said: ‘I did ask him to explain, (he said that) it was against his moral belief to bear arms, he had taken advice from a website called Stand At Ease.’

Last December, Lyons became the first person to appear before ACCO for 14 years.

It is understood that the committee rejected his claim but the court martial heard previously that he was still awaiting formal notification from Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

A previous hearing was told that Lyons’ was only the third court martial to be held with conscientious objection as a defence.

The ACCO heard that Lyons decided he could not serve in Afghanistan after he read the WikiLeaks revelations about the conflict.

Lyons, who comes from a military family and is the great-grandson of a decorated Second World War hero, told the committee: ‘I was unable to find a real, just and noble cause to go out but I still had a sense of duty to my country.

‘It was a big dilemma. Soon after, a large number of military documents were leaked by WikiLeaks.

‘Examples included a convoy of marines tearing down a six-mile highway, firing at people with no discrimination.

‘Being in the military, most people’s view was you just have to go out there and do what you’re told to do.

‘I came to the conclusion I couldn’t serve on a moral ground and I couldn’t see any political reason for being there.’

He said that he was further put off when he learnt he might not be able to treat everyone, regardless of who they were.

He said: ‘It seems from previous testimony and courses I’ve done that even going out as a medic with all good intention, if you’re at a patrol base or forward operating base, it’s likely you’ll have to use your weapon and will have to turn civilians away who are in need of medical aid.’

He added: ‘If more people in my position stood up, there would be a lot less innocent lives lost around the world.’

One of the previous court martial cases involving conscientious objection as a defence was Muslim reservist Mohisin Khan, from Ipswich, who refused to serve with the RAF as a medic.

He lost his appeal for going absent without leave (Awol) in 2004.

In the other case, Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, from York, lost his appeal last year against a nine-month jail sentence after he went Awol prior to his second deployment to Afghanistan.