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Data for 2019 showed that 660 UK army soldiers and reservists - nearly the equivalent of a battalion – were discharged after testing positive for illicit substances, mostly cocaine, in mandatory tests (CDTs), an increase from 580 in 2017.
In what has been termed the UK army's “biggest ever drugs bust”, a group of 19 soldiers from one squadron have tested positive for cocaine and cannabis, reported The Sun.
The soldiers – mostly of Private rank with at least one a Lance Corporal – hail from the 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment. The drugs had been purportedly taken both at the barracks and at their home, with army bosses left “absolutely fuming” over the scandal.
“This is off the scale, it has sent shockwaves through the Army. Nineteen in one round of testing is a large number and raises very serious questions,” a source was cited by The Sun as saying.
The source added that whole previously the soldiers had been tested every few weeks, the lockdown prompted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic had wrought changes. Accordingly, this latest round of mandatory tests (CDTs) was the first for quite a long time.
“These are individual cases as well, it wasn't one wild night out. Jaws were on the floor with shock,” added the source.
When called out over their misdemeanour, the soldiers in the Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire reportedly complained they were bored and had nothing better to do.
“A number of soldiers from 1 YORKS recently failed a compulsory drugs test. The Army does not tolerate drug abuse within its ranks as it is in- compatible with military service and operational effectiveness. Army personnel caught taking drugs can expect to be discharged,” said the army in a statement.
This comes as the latest figures show a surge in drug use in the Armed Forces. In an increase from the 580 cases registered two years earlier, 660 soldiers and reservists were revealed to have been dismissed in 2019 for failing mandatory tests (CDTs), according to Ministry of Defence data released under Freedom of Information laws.
Flickr / UK Ministry of Defence
Soldiers of 1RRF March Through Balham, London
There were approximately 630 firings after positive CDTs in 2018 and 580 in 2017.
Cocaine is the most detected drug, followed by cannabis and ecstasy, which scores of tests also showing the presence of ketamine, steroids and benzodiazepines.
A former soldier was cited by The Guardian as saying that many take drugs to manage the stresses of life in the army, including PTSD, while others simply “enjoyed getting high”.
A zero tolerance policy regarding drug use was introduced by former defence secretary Gavin Williamson in November 2018, however, his successor, Ben Wallace, said he recognised some people are “young and irresponsible”.
Wallace confirmed to Tory members at a ConservativeHome fringe event in Manchester at the time that he had changed the Army’s zero-tolerance drugs policy as it should be for commanding officers and not the Government to decide whether to boot out an individual.
“I changed it. I took the view that some people are young and irresponsible and it should be up to their commanding officers to decide, whether it’s a young lad or girl who’s made a mistake, whether they should be allowed to remain in the armed forces or not. And people who have left and want to rejoin, the same should apply to them as well. I think, you know, that doesn’t mean to say you should be able to do drugs in the armed forces,” said Wallace.