‘MPs CALL FOR “WALTER MITTY LAW TO PROSECUTE FAKE MILITARY HEROES” ’
DECEITFUL WEARING OF MEDALS INSULTS RIGHTFUL RECIPIENTS AND DAMAGES INTEGRITY OF HONOURS SYSTEM, SAYS DEFENCE COMMITTEE
By Maev Kennedy
Guardian – 22 November 2016
A new law is needed to criminalise impostors wearing military medals and decorations, the parliamentary Defence Committee has said, despite admitting there is only anecdotal evidence for the extent of it.
Julian Lewis, chair of the committee whose report is published on Tuesday, described the impostors as “contemptible fantasists”.
“Military impostors commit a specific harm that requires a specific criminal sanction. Other countries have sought to maintain these sanctions, for reasons of deterrence and punishment, while the United Kingdom has foolishly disposed of them,”
“We support the aim of the bill to remove this anomaly, and have called our report Exposing Walter Mitty, because those who seek public admiration by pretending to have risked their lives are contemptible fantasists who need to be deterred.”
The Committee says the law, which dates to the aftermath of the first world war, should have been revised rather than scrapped in 2006. The Ministry of Defence was wrong to decide that impostors could be prosecuted under other offences, and that there was a lack of clarity in the law, the Committee says. It supports a private member's bill, the awards for valour (protection) bill, sponsored by Gareth Johnson, the Conservative MP for Dartford, which is scheduled to have its second reading in the Commons on Friday.
"The committee concludes that the deceitful wearing of decorations and medals is a specific harm which is insulting to the rightful recipients of these awards, damaging to the integrity of the military honours system and harmful to the bond between the public and the armed forces. This specific harm was considered to require a specific criminal sanction.”
The report insists there is a “strong body of anecdotal evidence” of “tangible and identifiable harm”, but concedes the incidence is difficult to determine from official statistics.
“The experience of encountering military impostors among the service charities which submitted evidence also seems to vary.”
Internationally, the report notes that other countries have criminalised the deceitful use of decorations and medals,
“to the extent that the lack of such protection in the United Kingdom can be considered exceptional”.
In 2009 a Warwickshire man, Roger Day, was arrested and pleaded guilty to wearing 17 medals and an SAS tie pin when he joined a Remembrance Day parade. He was later reported to have sold the medals, which his wife had bought for him, believing she was replacing ones he had genuinely earned. The case against him was later withdrawn.
At the time the MoD said the case was unusual because most of those who impersonated veterans were trying to extort free meals or drinks, or a bed for the night, rather than wanting to show off their decorations in public.