Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is Fox serious about the "Military Covenant"?

During the height of the Iraq insurgency – and to the same extent as the campaign in Afghanistan built up – what we got mostly from the then shadow defence secretary was wailing about the "Military Covenant".

Now Liam Fox has assumed the office of defence secretary, he is still mainly parading his heart on this sleeve, unable to break away from his background as a GP. But, writes Booker today if Fox, is as keen on the Covenant as he claims to be, and had not all along been milking sympathy for the Armed Forces for political gain, then he might begin by addressing himself to the plight of Epeli Uluilakeba, a 28-year-old Fijian, known to his friends and comrades as Pex.

His story is inexorably linked with that of Private Philip Hewett. Philip was one of three of a crew of five in a Land Rover "Snatch" who were killed in 2005 by an explosively formed projectile while on patrol in al Amarah. That they should never have been there, that they should never have been in a "Snatch" and that the Army has been covering up ever since, is not the story here.

In that Land Rover, along with Pte Hewett was Pex, Pte Uluilakeba. He had been serving in the Army for just a year and, unlike Phillip he survived. Despite being seriously injured when the blast tore their vehicle apart, he sought to give first aid to one of his dying comrades, who lay beside the corpse of their patrol leader.

In this bloody chaos, Pex saw and experienced things no human being should ever have to see. Unsurprisingly, along with his physical injuries, he emerged with severe psychological trauma. But he was what his commanding officer described as "a dedicated, enthusiastic and very capable field soldier, whose team spirit and loyalty is first-class".

Within a year he was deemed fit to be sent back to Iraq, where he endured the terrifying siege of Basra Palace. When he returned from that hell hole, once more to England, he was diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But, contrary to its "caring image", the Army failed – as it so often did and still does – to arrange anything like adequate care or treatment.

Still deeply disturbed by his experiences, he took to heavy drinking – mainly, he says, to blot out the lurid memories. In the small hours of one morning, when an over-zealous corporal was shouting to evacuate the barracks for a fire-drill, Pex drew a knife on him. For this, he was court martialled in 2009. After a short spell in Colchester prison, the Army discharged him as "no longer being of service".

A devout Christian, Pex pulled himself together. He became a teetotaller, and set about training to qualify as a plumber. But, being a Fijian citizen, he was not allowed to work, claim benefits or even sign on with a GP. (He still has to pull bits of shrapnel out of his own legs, because he has no doctor.)

Supported by the charity of members of the Fijian community, with whom he has been living, Pex last year applied for permission to remain permanently in Britain. Last month his application was refused by the UK Border Agency, on the grounds that he had been court martialled. He was told that if he did not leave the country by 7 February, he would be deported.

Such is the bizarre state of our immigration laws that, thanks to European legislation, we cannot deport a citizen of an EU country, even a rapist or murderer. Meanwhile, judges prevent the deportation of a Pakistani who knocked down a 12-year-old girl and caused her to "die like a dog" as she was dragged along by his car.

But a man who has sustained permanent injury in the field in the defence of Britain – for which he has not yet been paid any compensation - cannot be allowed to live in our country, although his only wish is to stay peaceably and to work for his living.

Fortunately, Pex has good friends, including Sue Smith, the mother of Philip Hewett, who is still trying to sue the Army for negligence, and being given the right royal run-around by the MoD and the legal aid commission.

Also on-side is Elaine Laga, a widow who also lost a soldier son, in a deeply suspicious Army Land Rover "accident" in Germany. Despite legions of Service charities, their staffs living comfortably off the charity of well-wishers, it was she who paid £500 from her meagre savings to enable Pex to apply to the Home Office to re-examine his application to stay in Britain. That is why he is still here, despite the deportation deadline having passed.

Sue Smith, who has also been behind the scenes on all this, says in her own robust style: "I cannot believe this country has allowed rapists, child molesters and terrorists to stay here, yet a man who is quite willing to give his life for Queen and country is being booted out."

Elaine Laga has a different, more tempered style, but is no less passionate. She adds: "When you consider who we let into this country and provide for, it is a shame that we cannot look after a war veteran and a hero, a man who would be getting on with his life if allowed to."

So, if Dr Fox really is committed to the "Military Covenant" that he wants us all to honour – he has one very easy way to start proving it. He could order a review of the case of Pex, Mr Epeli Uluilakeba, as a top priority. He then needs to ensure that the hounds of the Border Agency are called off, that Pex is properly compensated and then given the UK citizenship he deserves.

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Several contributors to the ST comments and here have asked how they might contribute to a fighting fund for Pex. At very short notice, Elaine has turned over her savings account to Pex. Cheques can be made out to : Elaine Laga ( as Pex is not allowed to open his own bank account):

Send to :- Christopher Booker ( Pex)
Sunday Telegraph
111 Buckingham Palace Rd
London SW1W 0DT

Electronic payments to: EM LAGA – sort code 40-47-68 account number 30052043

There have been some suggestions that I set up a Paypal account for Pex. This is not as easy as it would appear. With the new money-laundering regulations, there are all sorts of complications, which would make it almost impossible to turn it into cash, and get it to him. However, if anyone wants to put money in my Paypal account - mark it "Pex" - I will add it to my amount and send it on to Elaine.