Monday 19 March 2018

Shamed British soldier who sold comrades’ medals is jailed for five years

Rod Minchin

A BRITISH soldier who burgled comrades' rooms to steal their medals which he then sold for thousands of pounds on eBay was today jailed for five years.

Sergeant Gordon Hill, 37, was branded "disgraceful" by a judge and told he had brought "shame and dishonour" upon himself.

His 22-year Army career, which had seen service in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Afghanistan, now lies in tatters after he was caught sneaking into the bedrooms to get his hands on the prized decorations.

Among the campaign awards that Hill took from the Sergeants' Mess at Battlesbury Barracks in Warminster, Wiltshire, was a rare Sierra Leone medal, as well as others marking conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

Hill then went online to sell the medals, which one victim said "represented personal blood spilled overseas", to the highest bidder.

He was caught after a buyer became suspicious when she realised she had just bought decorations which belonged to a serving soldier.

During his trial last month Hill, who served with the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, claimed the eight victims had all asked him to sell the medals for them.

He insisted the men, all senior non-commissioned officers including a company sergeant major, had all approached him and he had given them the money after they were sold.

However, jurors did not believe the father-of-two, of Nursery Lane, Darlington, Co Durham, and he was convicted of 20 charges - seven burglaries, 12 counts of fraud and one theft - between 2008 and 2010.

Hill worked as a senior instructor teaching reconnaissance tactics before deployment and was due to retire in 2013.

Hannah Squire, prosecuting, told the court that Hill received £6,936 from selling the medals to unsuspecting collectors, including one in New Zealand.

"The vast majority of the medals in this case are campaign medals, medals awarded to the soldiers to mark their services to this country," she said.

"These medals, as you heard from the soldiers, represent more than just recognition of their service.

"To some they are the physical embodiment of what they had to go through to get them.

"To some they represent close friends and colleagues they lost in action."

Ms Squire read to the court statements made by six of the victims who described their betrayal at the hands of a fellow soldier.

NCO Mark Wall described how the thefts had affected him.

"The fact he has breached my trust makes me feel sick," he said.

Warrant Officer Thomas Salter said: "I feel upset and degraded that a fellow senior NCO has entered my room and taken my medals.

"My medals are a permanent reminder of the good times and bad."

WO Salter said in his statement made earlier this year that he did not plan to attend this year's Armistice commemorations because he did not have his medals.

Another soldier, Kevin Blackley, spoke of the importance of his Afghanistan medal.

"It's the most important medal I have. We lost five from my own battalion and three from my reconnaissance force," he said.

"My Afghanistan medal serves as a chilling reminder of the price we pay for freedom that we take for granted."

Comrade David Taylor said: "I wear these medals with great pride and they remind me of my time in Afghanistan.

"The incident has left me feeling bitter and untrusting."

The court heard that Hill had been court martialled twice in the past for taking things from other soldiers.

In 1999 he stole military kit worth £300 from another soldier's room in barracks and in 2005 he took a junior ranking's car. Hill was demoted but remained in the Army.

Alex Daymond, defending, said Hill, who had served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Afghanistan during his career, still did not accept his guilt.

"Mr Hill continues to deny responsibility for these offences and he maintains, as he did during his trial, that he was approached by these soldiers and asked to sell these medals," Mr Daymond said.

"His career has been lost to him. It has come to a rather premature and sad end and he will have to face the disgrace of discharge."

At Swindon Crown Court Judge Douglas Field jailed Hill for five years.

"The victims of the burglary and theft were no less than your fellow sergeants," he said.

"They had every right to believe their medals would not be stolen. You have broken that trust in the most disgraceful way.

"You entered their private rooms and stole their military medals and sold them on eBay.

"Their medals have been awarded to them for recognition of their meritorious service in the British Army, particularly their service in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Judge Field said the awarding of the medals was made "more poignant" because some of their comrades had made the ultimate sacrifice.

"From their impact statements I am again reminded of what you have done to them," the judge said.

"The present offences have brought shame and dishonour upon you and are so serious I must pass an immediate lengthy term of imprisonment.

"The sentence of imprisonment reflects the totality of your offending and also reflects the very serious breach of trust. These offences took place over a long period.

"I finish my sentencing remarks by saying how pleased I am to hear that the victims' in this case will get their medals back."

Speaking outside court, Det Chief Inspector Michael Conner, of the Ministry of Defence Police, welcomed the sentence passed upon Hill.

"We agree with the judge's remarks and we identify with everything he said," Mr Conner said.

"It was the breach of trust that was unacceptable. In passing a five year sentence the judge has made very, very clear his view.

"These medals are very important to the soldiers. As one said, they remind him of the good times and the bad."

Mr Conner said that this investigation was part of a wider inquiry into the unauthorised sale of military memorabilia on internet auction sites.

An Army spokeswoman said: "All those who are found to fall short of the Army's high standards or who are found to have committed an offence under the Army Act are dealt with administratively - up to and including discharge - or through the discipline process as appropriate."

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