A criminal offence should be created to punish "military imposters" who wear medals they did not earn, MPs said
Lucy Fisher, Senior Political Correspondent
The Times – 22 November 2016
The deceitful wearing of decorations damages the integrity of the military honours system and harms the bond between the public and the armed forces, a report by the Commons Defence Select Committee said. The report, Exposing Walter Mitty, calls for the Government to back harsher punishments for military impostors.
The Committee is supporting a private members’ bill put forward by Gareth Johnson, the Conservative MP for Dartford, which will have its second reading on Friday. It would
“prohibit the wearing or public display, by a person not entitled to do so, of medals or insignia awarded for valour, with the intent to deceive”.
Criminal sanctions for the deceitful use of military decorations were first committed to the statute book after the First World War. They were repealed by the Armed Forces Act 2006, which came into force in 2009, and were not replaced.
The Ministry of Defence said at the time that the sanctions had been unclear and that other legal avenues existed to prosecute military impostors. In 2009 Roger Day posed as a retired member of the SAS and wore 17 medals that he had not won in a Remembrance Day parade. Charges of military deception against him were dropped because the new act had become law days before the parade.
Anyone who benefits financially from fraudulently posing as a veteran can be prosecuted, but simply masquerading as an ex-serviceman or woman is not an offence. In the US, under the Stolen Valor Act, it is illegal to impersonate a member of the armed forces. The lack of protection in the UK is exceptional in the international community, the MPs said.
The number of offences involving military impostors is difficult to determine because of discrepancies in the way they are recorded, the MPs said, but
“a strong body of anecdotal evidence exists that points to military impostors being a continuing problem”.
They urged that a caveat be included in any legislation to protect the rights of family members to wear relations’ medals. The MPs added:
“We suggest that the bill include a definition of ‘family member’ to provide certainty over who will be covered.”
Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East and chairman of the defence committee, said:
“Military impostors commit a specific harm that requires a specific criminal sanction.
“Those who seek public admiration by pretending to have risked their lives are contemptible fantasists who need to be deterred.”
Andy McNab, the former SAS sergeant and author, has backed calls for a law to punish fraudulent veterans. In recent years British impostors have been exposed by a network of undercover online vigilantes called the Walter Mitty Hunters Club. It claims to have unmasked more than 300 people.