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Two British soldiers in regiment that guards Queen cleared of racially abusing Northern Irish colleague they called ‘Gerry Adams’

They claimed jokes about him being an IRA terrorist were just ‘boisterous banter’


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Two Household Cavalry soldiers have been cleared of racially abusing their Northern Irish colleague after claiming jokes about him being an IRA terrorist were just “boisterous banter”.

Troopers Maxwell Nicholls and Declan Coutts were also acquitted of attacking a Muslim colleague in the esteemed regiment which is traditionally responsible for guarding Queen Elizabeth.

The pair admitted calling Trooper Scott Alexander “Gerry Adams” and “terrorist” and making IRA jibes but said these types of jokes were part of their regiment’s culture.

Tpr Alexander, their young roommate, told a court martial he felt “demoralised” and was subjected to pranks and physical attacks including choke-holds.

But the pair denied carrying out “malicious” attacks, with Tpr Nicholls claiming it was part of “rough and tumble” Army life and Tpr Coutts saying Tpr Alexander “was good at dishing it out but not taking it”.

Best friends Tpr Nicholls (22) and Tpr Coutts (24) were cleared of racially abusing Tpr Alexander and attacking Muslim colleague Tpr Azaan Aziz-Sheikh.

All four soldiers were trainees with the historic Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment in Windsor, one of the most senior in the Army.

As the board delivered not guilty verdicts to all nine charges at Bulford Military Court, Wiltshire, Tpr Nicholls and Tpr Coutts stood side by side in uniform with their arms by their sides and kept blank faces.

After the board left the courtroom, they turned to each other, smiled, Tpr Coutts said “phew” and they remarked how their hands were shaking.

Tpr Nicholls, from Essex, and Scottish Tpr Coutts were accused of racially aggravated battery on Tpr Alexander from July to November 2020.

Tpr Alexander alleged they pinned him down and called him “IRA c***”, strangled him and put him in headlocks, hid his belongings and soaked his bed while they shared a room at Windsor’s Combermere Barracks.

Tpr Nicholls and Tpr Coutts told the court they denied the attacks and said their roommate participated in pranks, which were just “harmless horseplay” and were enjoyed by all trainees.

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Tpr Nicholls, now a Mounted Dutyman with the Blues and Royals within the Household Cavalry, said: “We never assaulted him. We had boisterous banter that was going on, it was never targeted attacks on Alexander.

“It was just pranks played back and forth. There was shaving foam and we would bungee cord people on their bed - Alexander did it back to me.

“It was rough and tumble, it was not malicious. Everyone that got pranked had it done back to them. I never choked or strangled Alexander... [The pranks] were never done in an aggressive way.”

Tpr Coutts, also now in the Blues and Royals, said: “He was good at dishing it out but not the best at taking it. But he never explicitly asked us to stop.

“We never made comments maliciously about the IRA or call him ‘IRA c***’, we made jokes about the IRA and Gerry Adams.

“That was something me and Alexander did together. He would make the jokes and references to Gerry Adams and we both were going along with it.

“I can appreciate that jokes about the IRA can be deeply offensive but if someone from that heritage is making those jokes then it can be played with.

“Everyone’s heritage was mentioned. I’m from Scotland so I got comments about Scottish independence and ‘go back up home to your sheep and Highland cows’.

“Nicholls got references to Essex and about wearing fake tan.”

The “inseparable” pair were also acquitted of battering Tpr Aziz-Sheikh following a boozy trainee night out in Windsor.

Tpr Coutts, who had experience with martial arts and boxing, admitted punching him to the face at their barracks but was cleared of battery after telling a panel ‘aggressive’ Tpr Aziz-Sheikh pushed him and was about to hit him.

Tpr Nicholls, who said he had over 10 drinks, was accused of kicking Tpr Aziz-Sheikh in the face but was acquitted.

Halfway through the trial Tpr Nicholls was cleared of racially abusing the Muslim soldier after it was alleged he made derogatory remarks about Mashallah. He was also accused of describing Islam as “a scam”.

Barristers Eleanor Lucas and Cathryn Sutcliffe, representing Tpr Nicholls and Tpr Coutts, said their alleged victims made up stories “as they went along”.

Captain Bruce Crampton said Tpr Nicholls shows promising signs of leadership and is of “good moral fibre”.

Tpr Coutts was previously in the Royal Marines Reserves and planned on becoming a teacher before joining the Army.

Captain Lane Fox, his troop leader, said he is a “natural leader” and is the type to “stop group banter when he feels it crosses the line”.

Tpr Nicholls and Tpr Coutts were both cleared of racially aggravated battery, regular battery, and a conduct charge related to their behaviour towards Tpr Alexander.

Tpr Nicholls was cleared of two counts of battery on Tpr Aziz-Sheikh while Tpr Coutts was cleared of one count of battery on the same soldier.

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