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1 October 2013, 17:07
A Royal Marine drill instructor who bullied new recruits, including hitting one in the groin with a pace stick, has avoided a jail sentence.
Corporal Peter Clark pleaded guilty to the three offences of ill-treating subordinates at Portsmouth Naval Base court martial centre and has been fined a total of £1,750.
He was also given a severe reprimand.
The 39-year-old admitted grabbing Marine Recruit (MR) Matthew Scott round the throat, hitting MR Joshua Croxford in the testicle with a pace stick, and hitting MR Adam Lushman in the face with a pair of combat boots.
A pace stick is a long stick carried by a drill instructor as a symbol of authority and it is used to set a marching pace.
The offences took place in May and June last year at the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon. A panel of three senior officers determined the sentence handed out to Clark, a married man whose wife gave birth to his sixth child just two weeks ago.
Sentencing him, Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett said: "Young commandos and marines have to be trained to a very high standard and the training has to be tough.
"However there is no place in training for physical and mental abuse that has the potential to harm the morale of recruits.
"The actions you took crossed the line of acceptability.''
Judge Blackett said that Clark was junior in his rank and better supervision would have prevented his inappropriate actions.
He added that although serious, his behaviour was not severe enough to warrant a custodial sentence or a demotion in rank.
He told Clark: "It is clear from what we have heard, what you did was of genuine over-zealousness and you had the interest of the corps at your heart.''
Lieutenant Colonel Nigel Heppenstall, prosecuting, said that Clark's bullying training tactics had no place in the modern marines.
He said that the three charges were specimen counts, each representing several offences.
He said: "This is a case about a drill instructor who ill-treated the recruits under his charge.
"Royal Marine commandos are amongst the most rigorously trained assault infantry forces in the world but there is no place in their training for any type of bullying.''
Lt Col Heppenstall described how Clark confronted MR Phelps-Scott as he tried to leave the block during a room inspection to collect his beret from a drying room.
After a "verbal exchange'' the recruit attempted a second time to leave the room and Clark grabbed him.
Lt Col Heppenstall said: "The panicked recruit then attempted to leave the room and Corporal Clark responded by grabbing his throat.
"The pressure was enough to hinder his breathing.
"He (Clark) shouted aggressively at him and pushed him back with such force he slid for 4ft.''
The incident involving the pacestick took place during a parade drill.
The court heard that MR Croxford had briefly looked to the right when Clark had ordered the troop to "dress to left''.
Lt Col Heppenstall said: "He glanced to the right in an unintentional movement which Corporal Clark noticed.
"He said 'Why are you looking to the right? Is it your boyfriend? Do you love him?
"He replied 'No corporal' and kept his eyes to the left as required.''
He said that MR Croxford didn't see Clark approaching and was then struck in the groin causing him to "instantly feel sick with pain''.
Lt Col Heppenstall said that Clark was seen to hit several recruits with the same "upward flicking'' motion with the pacestick.
The third charge related to a room inspection when Clark struck MR Lushman in the face with his combat boots because they had mud on the soles causing him a cut lip.
The recruit told military police investigators that he saw Clark do the same to several other recruits during the inspection and when he approached him, the drill instructor was "angry, red-faced, teeth-clenched and had a very stern look''.
Lt Col Heppenstall said that Clark's actions were investigated after his commanding officer took over drill training on an occasion when he was absent.
The visible relief shown by the recruits prompted the officer to be concerned at how Clark was treating the newcomers and launched the inquiry.
Stephen Smyth, defending, said that Clark had been over-zealous in his efforts to install discipline in a failing troop and to assert his authority.
He said: "He could be described as an over-disciplinarian.
"He was doing his job as he saw it but it goes against the laws of what could be called the Playstation generation.''
Mr Smyth said that Clark's actions did not compare to the common stereotypes of the shouting drill instructor.
He said: "When you hear of Sergeant Major Britain and his voice being heard half a mile away, it pales into insignificance.''
He added: "The basis of his plea was of being an over-disciplinarian and this would never have happened if others thought of it as criminal.''
Mr Smyth said: "What he did he shouldn't have done but it was an effective way of smartening up what had been a poor troop.''
He said that many of the recruits felt that Clark's techniques were as to be expected from the RM training course.
Mr Smyth said: "They are expected to go to some of the most tough and difficult places in the world therefore this course is a form of toughening up.''
He said that one of the recruits described Clark as "fair but firm'' and another said: "He quite rightly comes down on us very hard when we do not do things the right way.''
Another said: "I believe his heart is in the right place but from being in the Royal Marines for a long time he has lost his way a bit.''
The court heard that Clark originally joined the marines in 1991 but left for a five-year period in 2003 before rejoining in 2008.
He had gained medals for serving in Northern Ireland and Iraq, and had also been awarded the jubilee, long service, good conduct and UN peacekeeping medals.
Mr Smyth said: "He is described as a committed, valuable member of the team, honest, reliable, courteous, who sets the highest standards for himself and others to follow.''
He added that he was known for "going the extra mile on nearly every occasion''.
Clark was due to stand trial for 14 charges but after he entered the three guilty pleas, the prosecution offered no evidence on the other charges and Judge Blackett formally found him not guilty of these offences.