By Steve Bird and Dominic Nicholls
Daily Telegraph – 18 May 2019
The Royal Navy's decision to strip a captain of his command of HMS Queen Elizabeth after he "misused" an official car has triggered an angry backlash amid claims Armed Forces chiefs have become "absurdly bureaucratic". Cdre Nick Cooke-Priest was removed as captain of the aircraft carrier after apparently using a Ford Galaxy for personal journeys at weekends.
In a statement, the Royal Navy said the 50-year-old commodore had been "reassigned" to a new role, with sources insisting senior officers must be "whiter than white" because they expect servicemen to follow their orders. Cdre Cooke-Priest, who joined the Royal Navy in 1990, was removed from his command of the 65,000-ton carrier and its crew of 700 seamen in the past few days.
It is understood he felt he was not informed he would be in breach of rules if he used the official car for personal journeys. The captain is believed to be "gutted" and believes he made an "innocent mistake".
Julian Lewis, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, said he was "astonished" the captain had been removed from his post for a "minor infraction", adding that he feared the Royal Navy had "very warped values".
"If he has been relieved of his command as a result of an alleged misuse of an official car, I am simply astonished,"
the MP said.
"Are we really going to write off the skills of a highly qualified officer in whom this country has invested enormous resources for him to reach the position of being able to command the queen of warships. The idea he should be removed rather than receiving an informal ticking off or formal reprimand is suggestive of some very warped values in the administrative arm of the Royal Navy.
"It isn't only taking bureaucratic platinum plating to absurd lengths, it's also a criminal waste of all we've invested in this man's career and skills."
Other supporters took to social media yesterday claiming they would start a petition calling for the commodore to be reinstated. The captain was only in his post for just over six months after joining the ship in New York while it was deployed in the Atlantic Ocean in October last year. An investigation found he had made an "error of judgment" in using the car.
A military source insisted there was no suggestion any other misdemeanour had been uncovered that contributed to his dismissal from that role. He added that the commodore had also paid for his own petrol on any trips deemed personal. A Royal Navy spokesman said:
"We can confirm Captain Nick Cooke-Priest has been reassigned to a new role. We can only say that management action is ongoing and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment further."
Although Admiral Lord West, former First Sea Lord, refused to comment on the specific case, he said:
"The Navy has very high values and standards and ensures these are maintained at all times."
Cdre Cooke-Priest had specialised as a Lynx helicopter observer after joining the Royal Navy 29 years ago. He was promoted to commander in 2009 shortly before escorting the Queen on a royal tour while aboard HMS Kent. On HMS Iron Duke, he was deployed to the Arabian Gulf, and in 2011 joined Operation Ellamy, the coalition military intervention in Libya which enforced a UN-backed no-fly zone during the civil war.
His continued success in the Royal Navy saw him assume command of HMS Bulwark, the Fleet Flagship, in January 2015 before leading the UK's contribution to the Gallipoli centenary commemorations in the same year. He is a married father of three sons and was awarded an OBE in 2016.