Tuesday, 18 December 2007

HMS Cornwall fiasco: systemic failure ..... again

The detailed Fulton report into the sequence of events that led up to the capture of Royal Navy personnel by the Iranians in March 2007 is not going to be made public "because it addresses operational and tactical issues, which cannot be discussed in public without increasing the risk to our forces". We must trust the politicians on the House of Commons Defence Committee (and if you can't trust a politician, who can you trust?) when they say that the requirement for secrecy is legitimate and that no cover-up is intended.
The Defence Committee, who were privy to the Fulton report, found that: "There was a lapse in operational focus in the front line, and a widespread failure of situational awareness." However, no senior officer or civil servant is going to be held publicly accountable for the cock-up. The "Administrative action" that is apparently going to be taken merely means that some service personnel may receive a slap on the wrist and that some careers may be put on hold for a bit.
Fulton has publicly admitted that faults in procedures, risk analysis, intelligence handling, training and information sharing were the causes of the fiasco. In other words we're back to the old "systemic failure" excuse, the excuse we hear time and again whenever a government department reluctantly admits they've screwed up but doesn't want any individuals to shoulder the responsibility. It's alright for the front line troops to risk their necks day after day but heaven forbid that senior personnel should ever have to risk theirs.

In parallel with Fulton, the Government also commissioned the Hall inquiry into the media handling of the debacle, in particular the decision to allow the service personnel involved to sell their stories to the press. And guess what? The Hall inquiry also found that no individuals were responsible! No disciplinary action is going to be taken against those who caused the Royal Navy to become an international laughing stock and the UK to be so humiliated.
Lack of clarity in the decision-making process, "collective failure of judgement", and lack of overall control were apparently the causes of the media disaster. So, good old "systemic failure, I'm afraid" again then?