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Bullying Claims At Inquest Into Soldier's Death
Colleagues of a soldier from Bournemouth who hanged herself two years after she claimed she had been raped released a box of live crickets in her room as part of a bullying campaign, an inquest has heard.
Corporal Charlotte Berrill also told the hearing in Salisbury, Wiltshire, that the Army failed to investigate another soldier who acted "unprofessionally'' by telling a colleague that Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement had "cried rape''.
Cpl Ellement, 30, was found dead at Bulford Barracks near Salisbury on October 9, 2011. Her sister, Sharon Hardy, has told the inquest that she had been left "absolutely devastated'' by the decision by military investigators not to prosecute the two soldiers who she claimed had raped her in November 2009, while she was posted in Germany.
Cpl Berrill said Cpl Ellement had "desperately'' applied to be posted back to the UK after she had been "bullied'' by colleagues in Germany who accused her of "crying rape''.
Cpl Berrill, who became friends with her while they were posted together in Bulford, said that Cpl Ellement described how she had been targeted by other female soldiers in her barracks in Germany.
She said: "She had two pet bearded dragons, at one point, shortly after the rape allegation, she left the room to use the bathroom and a box of live crickets had been released in her room and they were everywhere.
"She told me she would get bangs on the door from the girls in the corridor and she said that Charlene (Pritchard) had said she had cried rape.''
She continued: "She said to me that she was no longer her usual bubbly self, she felt she couldn't trust anybody, she didn't want to go out anywhere because she felt she didn't have any friends to go out with.
"She desperately wanted to come back on a compassionate and she was happy when she got that.''
Cpl Pritchard denied when she gave evidence to the court that she banged doors or said to Cpl Ellement that she had cried rape.
Cpl Berrill told the inquest that she had reprimanded a soldier, Corporal Craig O'Grady, for talking about the rape allegations at Bulford in April 2011. She said: "I heard him saying she was a bitch and she had ruined his best friend's life by crying rape.''
She continued: "I confronted Cpl O'Grady and said that although everyone is entitled to an opinion, it's not the kind of subject you should be talking about in a police station in front of other people who do not know what happened and you yourself do not know what happened.
"I thought it was highly unprofessional for somebody to talk about something so sensitive to people who had nothing to do with it.''
She continued: "I informed Anne-Marie about what I had heard and told her what Cpl O'Grady said, she was very upset about it and angry, she was clenching her fists a few times, her eyes welled up immediately.''
Cpl Berrill said that she was then reprimanded by the regimental sergeant major for informing Cpl Ellement about the comments and relieved of her informal position of junior welfare officer.
She said: "He said I was professional and did the right thing at that stage by halting the conversation but I was unprofessional and had lost all the respect of my peers because I had told Anne-Marie what had happened.''
She said: "I felt it was not fair.''
She said that there was "no suggestion'' that the matter would be investigated and added: "Nothing was going to happen.''
She said that when Cpl Ellement had been transferred to Bulford she had been asked to support her.
She said: "I knew there wasn't anyone else she could turn to in the unit, if she lost her trust and confidence in me, she couldn't talk to anybody.''
She said that Cpl Ellement had not told her about anything that she felt she needed to inform a senior welfare officer about.
Cpl Berrill went on to say that Bulford had a "horrible'' working environment.
She said: "It's not a very nice place, the camp itself is not in a good location, it's isolated, it has its own weather system which makes it a more miserable place to be.
"As for the company, it wasn't a nice place to work.
"In my honest opinion, it didn't feel comfortable, the working environment felt very seniors versus juniors, I didn't feel like you could mix between the two.''
Cpl Berrill said that Cpl Ellement was also singled out by physical training instructors who called her fat.
She said: "In several PT lessons, they would parade the fit people in one section and the unfit people, myself included, in another section.
"I can't remember the exact words but they would say 'the fit will be doing this PT, the sick, lame and lazy and the fat, you will be doing this PT'.''
She said comments made about Cpl Ellement included: "She was a bit fat, always downgraded.''
She added: "In PT I heard her being treated differently, I heard the comments at PT.''
Cpl Berrill said that Cpl Ellement was downgraded on her physical fitness report and that her skiing instructors had given her a "hard time'' on a recent trip.
She said: "I can't recall exactly, she said to me that they had bullied her and victimised her by picking her out from the group.''
Cpl Berrill told the hearing that she had been told of comments made by a superior officer on Facebook who had taken a file of Cpl Ellement's work home to check it over. The comment, which did not name Cpl Ellement, said: "I have seen better work from a child.''
She said that she understood that the officer's wife, who she believed worked as a primary school teacher, had also posted a comment on Facebook that "the kids she teaches could do a better job.''
She said that Cpl Ellement had applied for a transfer to the veterinary corps but had been turned down.
Corporal Kareena Brooke told the inquest by phone-link from Diego Garcia that she had an argument with Cpl Ellement in the late spring of 2011 in which she was hit in the face with a bottle, although she was not injured.
She said they were friends but they had been "living in each other's pockets too much'' by the time of the incident as they had rooms facing each other in the barracks at Bulford.
She said that they were in a group at a pub in Salisbury playing a game where they made each other's drinks fizz over.
She said that Cpl Ellement accidentally spilled her drink on her dress, which led to the argument in which she was hit with the bottle.
Cpl Brooke said she did not know if it had been accidental or deliberate and did not make a formal complaint but did ask to move rooms.
She denied that she attempted to turn people against Cpl Ellement following this incident.
She said: "I do not know why I would turn people against her. Me and Anne-Marie, we obviously didn't get on for a while after this, she had been asking for the guys to lie for her after that night so I wasn't happy about it.
"I didn't want to report it, I just wanted to move rooms.''
Cpl Brooke told the inquest that Cpl Ellement was in a good mood when she celebrated her birthday a few days before her death.
She said Cpl Ellement sang in a concert at a local village hall and they went on to a karaoke night in a pub in Amesbury.
Cpl Brooke said: "She just seemed happy and in really high spirits, like really proud.
"I had never noticed if she was upset or anything that night, she seemed quite happy in herself.''
Asked if she was aware of text messages sent to Cpl Ellement on the day of her death stating that her current boyfriend was ending their relationship, Cpl Brooke said: "I knew they had split, I do not know why, I cannot remember when I found out about it.''
Deputy coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon Nicholas Rheinberg told the court that police had been informed of an allegation of interfering with a witness of the inquest.
He said: "The matter has been reported to the police for investigation.
"Should it be the case the culprit is discovered, it's likely that very severe penalties would follow, not only for breaches of the criminal law but also contempt of court and, on the facts being proved, a term of imprisonment would be on the cards.''
Warrant Officer Robert Balmer, who was responsible for welfare at the barracks in Germany, said his first contact with Cpl Ellement was when she was turned down for a language course, which she needed to gain an Afghanistan posting, because of her fitness levels.
He then had contact with her after the alleged rape.
He said: "She was highly charged, emotional, teary, incoherent at times.''
Her concerns were "embarrassment, fear of being in the unit, of going back to work. She didn't feel up to it, it was a highly emotional time.''
She came to him with concerns about noise and bullying.
He said: "There was discussion at an early stage where she was complaining about noise in the block, she believed it was focused on herself.
"It was at that point I said keep a diary of events and if she does find it directed at her, she should come directly to me. She came to me after she went direct to the OC (officer commanding).''
The whole unit was in a "heightened state''.
Cpl Ellement complained about the actions of her colleagues, including the girlfriend of Soldier A, one of the soldiers accused of raping her.
He said: "It got to a point where she said she was bullied so I took it to the SIB (special investigation branch).
"I went to the SIB, they decided there was no investigation and I was told to keep an eye on it.''
He approached the girlfriend of Soldier A and asked her about Cpl Ellement's allegations of bullying.
He said: "She denied it, anything to do with the allegation, and she clearly denied it all the way through the allegation.
"The direction given to her was to keep life civil, back off, and keep contact to a minimum between the two of them.''
Lisa Bowler, a former lance corporal who served with Cpl Ellement in Northern Ireland prior to her being transferred to Germany, said she fell out with one of her room-mates there.
Cpl Ellement had raised objections about two of her colleagues having their boyfriends to stay over in the four-bed dormitory.
Ms Bowler, who now works as a cinema administrator, said that when Cpl Ellement was posted to Germany, insults including the word "B***h'' were written in black marker on the boxes containing her belongings.
Cpl Ellement emailed her to inform her of the alleged rape incident.
She said: "She described herself as having hell and a nightmare. She was having a total meltdown.''
Cpl Ellement blamed Soldier A's girlfriend for the alleged bullying she was suffering.
The girlfriend denied bullying behaviour when she gave evidence to the inquest.
She said she wrote that she was also disappointed that "the people who are meant to uphold the law are beyond approach, makes me sick''.
Cpl Ellement was conscious of her body image.
She said: "She was always quite conscious of her weight, she was very conscious of her body, that's one of the reasons she had a breast reduction in Northern Ireland, she felt she couldn't do the physical training. She was always working on her fitness.''
Brigadier John Donnelly, who is responsible for personnel support in the Army, said Cpl Ellement's suggestion that she worked 90 hours in a nine-day period could have been true.
He said: "When you are in a period where there is a lot work to be done and a smaller number of people to do it, I can see the situation where people could work quite long hours.
"That would have to be carefully managed so people could enjoy their off-duty times fully.''
Leaflets and letters were sent out to personnel raising awareness of cyber-bullying.
He said: "Letters were sent down the chain of command several times over the last few years, not just about cyber-bullying but also inappropriate comments on social network sites.''
A confidential bullying helpline was also set up by the Army.
He said the Army would carry out an investigation following the death of a member of its personnel to establish any lessons that could be learned.
The inquest was adjourned until tomorrow.
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