Royal Navy objector found guilty

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.
Picture: Malcolm Wells

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A ROYAL Navy medic has been jailed for seven months for refusing rifle training ahead of a deployment to Afghanistan.

Leading Medical Assistant Michael Lyons refused to attend SA80 service rifle training at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth on September 20 last year.

It came one week after the 25-year-old had been denied the right to be excused from duty in Afghanistan as a conscientious objector.

Lyons denied a charge of disobeying a legal order but was found guilty at a court martial trial at Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday.

He was sentenced to seven months’ detention in a military correction facility, demoted to the rank of Able Seaman and kicked out of the navy.

The medic’s supporters stood up and applauded as he was marched from the court.

Lyons, of Plymouth, Devon, had applied through his superior officer to be considered as a conscientious objector last August but he was turned down.

Ahead of rifle training at HMS Excellent, Lyons told Warrant Officer Robert Bainbridge he could not start the course because he had a ‘moral objection to bearing arms’ and asked to be ‘re-rolled for non-combative duties’ – leading him to be charged with disobeying a lawful order.

Fiona Edington, defending, said medics had a ‘protected status’ under the Geneva convention, meaning that they were non-combatants who had a right to bear arms for self-defence and the protection of a patient.

She added that Lyons had developed a moral objection to the war in Afghanistan since he originally joined the navy at the age of 18.

She said: ‘Throughout the time he has behaved with impeccable politeness.

‘This is an isolated incident by a man with a conscience.’

Commander Darren Reed, prosecuting, argued: ‘What distinguishes a military force from an armed mob is discipline.’

Lyons, who comes from a military family and is the great-grandson of a decorated Second World War hero, became the first person for 14 years to appear before the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors on December 17.

He told the committee he could not serve in Afghanistan after he read the WikiLeaks revelations about the conflict.

The committee rejected his claim, saying he was a ‘political objector’ and not a ‘conscientious objector’.

The court martial heard Lyons is still awaiting formal notification from Defence Secretary Liam Fox that he has been denied the right to be a conscientious objector.

Ms Edington said: ‘He (Lyons) remains, in his eyes, a conscientious objector.’

The medic has been supported by military campaign groups throughout the trial.

Emma Sangster, co-ordinator of Forces Watch, said: ‘The simple injustice of Michael’s treatment illustrates how the government and the Ministry of Defence repeatedly fail to recognise conscientious objection in practice.

‘We urge MPs to uphold the human rights of forces personnel by clarifying and strengthening the right to conscientious objection.’