Serving military personnel are to be banned from selling their stories to the media, Defence Secretary Des Browne said today.
In a Commons statement Mr Browne said that he had accepted in full the recommendations of two reports into the events surrounding the capture of a Royal Navy boarding party by Iranian revolutionary guards last March.
He told MPs that the report by former Royal Marines Lieutenant General Sir Rob Fulton into the operation aspects of the affair had identified a series of “shortcomings”.
Although Gen Fulton did not find a case for disciplinary action against any of the individuals involved, he said that many of those concerned could have done more to prevent what happened.
He called for intelligence handling, communications, doctrine and training.
A second report by former BBC director of news Tony Hall into the way the 15 sailors and Royal Marines were allowed to sell their stories following their release found that there was a “collective failure or abstention of judgment” within the Ministry of Defence.
The boarding party from HMS Cornwall was seized by the Iranians after carrying out a routine boarding in the Persian Gulf in waters off Iraq.
The Iranians claimed that they had strayed into Iranian territorial waters – a claim consistently denied by the British Government.
Mr Browne said that General Fulton’s report – which remains classified and will not be published – had found their capture was not the result of a lack of equipment or resources – including helicopter cover.
“Above all General Fulton’s report concludes that the events of March 23 were not the result of a single gross failing or individual human error, but of the coming together of a series of vulnerabilities, many relatively small when viewed in isolation, which together placed our personnel in a position that could be exploited through a deliberate act by an unpredictable foreign power,” Mr Browne said.
“His conclusions suggest that there is no case for disciplinary action against any of the individuals involved.
“But this report does emphasise that many of those individuals could have done more to prevent what happened. In that respect it identifies some failings, both collective and individual, which the Royal Navy’s chain of command will deal with.”
The head of the Royal Navy Admiral Sir Jonathon Band said that some personnel could still face “appropriate administrative action” as a result of General Fulton’s findings.
“People who need to be given any messages will be given the messages,” he said.
He acknowledged that the Royal Navy’s reputation had been “dented” by what had happened but he insisted that it would recover.
“The events of March 23 were one bad day in our proud 100-year history. I can assure the British people that I will personally ensure that the recommendations of this report are fully implemented,” he said.
Mr Hall said he had not been able to identify any one individual who took the decision to allow the personnel to sell their stories to the media following their release by the Iranians.
“This was a collective failure of judgment or abstention from judgment,” he said.
However, he said Fleet Headquarters in Portsmouth had been the wrong place to consider the issue and said that in future the MoD should take the lead in such decisions.
He said that there should be no exemptions to the rule that serving personnel should not be allowed to make money from selling their stories to the media.
“The acceptance of payment from the media offended the public and their view of the special place of the Armed Forces in British life,” he said.
“It also ran contrary to what the Armed Forces believe that they stand for. That the decision to accept payment caused such anger and concern was entirely understandable.”