Last night the BBC aired a new drama entitled ‘Accused’. The programme portrayed the story of how a soldier is bullied to the point of suicide following his failure to return fire on operations in Afghanistan.
Within five minutes of the start of the programme it was clear that those producing the drama had taken little or no military advice. My suspicions were first aroused when the one of the main characters was seen wearing his beret incorrectly. Only a minor point, but one that started alarm bells ringing. I’m afraid to say that things only got worse.
The drama followed two new recruits on their first deployment to Afghanistan. Whilst there, one of them becomes the focus of a brutal section commander played by Mackenzie Crook. Following his failure to return fire on Taliban positions he is assaulted both verbally and physically and then ostracised by his comrades. He then goes through numerous instances of abuse including being made to do press-ups in the midday sun and having excrement having thrown over him.
Again these scenes of abuse highlighted the lack of expertise when producing such a drama. Whilst I am in no doubt that a small element of bullying does take place within the UK Armed Forces this programme only served to shock and outrage with little substance or truth.
But has it damaged the reputation of the UK Armed Forces and in particular that of the British Army? The programme was clearly based on little factual truth and did not portray an accurate view of the modern and professional British Army. The programme suggested a lack of camaraderie on operations and even painted a picture of soldiers drinking whilst deployed. All of which is utterly fictional and insulting to the reputation of our Armed Forces. The fact that the suicide is then covered up and his death attributed to enemy fire is equally insulting and far-fetched.
Whilst the BBC has not claimed that the story was based on truth, it did offer a help line at the end of the programme for anyone who had been affected by similar issues. Which raises the question of where does drama end and reality begin? If the BBC were adamant that this was simply a drama, was there a need for a help line?
The broadcast of such a drama whilst soldiers are still deployed is not only insensitive, but it serves only to lower morale and taint public support for our troops. Who already doing a difficult and demanding job in controversial circumstances.
If the BBC wished to broadcast a drama highlighting the problems of bullying then there are many other settings and backdrops that they could have used. Clearly the choice of Afghanistan was in an attempt to produce a gritty and hard-hitting programme. But with viewers such as the former head of the Army, General Lord Dannatt already condemning the broadcast. I fear that the BBC may well have shot themselves in the foot, with this short-sighted and insensitive attempt to chase ratings.