Tuesday, 12 January 2010

MoD threat to ruin Royal Marine hero who threw himself on Taliban grenade

By Jason Lewis, Mail On Sunday Whitehall Editor
Last updated at 10:03 PM on 09th January 2010

Matthew Croucher with his George Cross at Buckingham Palace

Proud: Matthew Croucher with his George Cross at Buckingham Palace

The Ministry of Defence threatened to bankrupt a Royal Marine war hero by forcing him to pay back money earned from his memoirs.

Lance-Corporal Matthew Croucher - who was awarded the George Cross by the Queen after throwing himself on a Taliban grenade to save his comrades in Afghanistan - was facing months of investigation by senior military staff for telling his story.

And the part-time soldier, who volunteered to go to the war zone, was told by the MoD that he would have to pay back the money he earned from writing about his exploits - around £90,000.

Yet within hours of The Mail on Sunday first contacting the MoD, officials backtracked and said L/Cpl Croucher had been cleared and would face no further action.

The MoD originally claimed the book, Bulletproof, published in September, broke military regulations banning serving men from being paid for writing about their careers.

The ban was brought in after the publication of a series of controversial military memoirs, including books by former SAS soldier Andy McNab and General Sir Peter de la Billière, Britain's commander in the 1991 Gulf War.

The MoD launched an official investigation and forced L/Cpl Croucher, a Royal Marine Reserve who is paid by the military only when he is on active service or exercises, to give evidence to senior naval officers.

He was also warned he would face further questioning at another hearing in Whitehall and told that if the inquiry found against him, he would have to repay the money or face being dismissed from the Marines.

Sources close to the soldier said: 'Matt wrote this book on his own time. He was paid an advance and used that money to live and also set up his own business, a security company supplying ex-Royal Marines to act as consultants and bodyguards.

'He does not earn his living from the military. He is only paid by the MoD when he is called up for duty. When he was writing the book it was his job and his only source of income.

'By asking him to pay the money back, they left him fearing ruin. He is a loyal Marine. If they told him to pay back the money he would - even if they forced him into bankruptcy.'

Matthew Croucher, Bullet Proof

Frontline memoir: The book was written in L/Cpl Croucher's own time

The source added: 'Matt got permission from his commanding officer. He sent the book to the MoD's D-Notice Committee to make sure he was not revealing any secrets. Then out of the blue - on the eve of publication - the bureaucrats in Whitehall put Matt under formal investigation.

'He has been devastated. He does not want to upset the military. He is a loyal soldier.'

L/Cpl Croucher, from Birmingham, served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He is a member of 40 Commando, which is based at Taunton in Somerset, and serves in the Commando Reconnaissance Force.

He was recommended for the George Cross after his heroism two years ago when he threw himself on a booby-trapped Taliban grenade to save three comrades during a search of a suspected bomb-making compound.

Miraculously, he escaped with just a nosebleed – his rucksack and body armour took the force of the blast.

L/Cpl Croucher later said: 'All I could hear was a loud ringing and the faint sound of people shouting, "Are you OK? Are you OK?" Then I felt one of the lads giving me a top-to-toe check. Blood was streaming from my nose. It took 30 seconds before I realised I was definitely not dead.'

When The Mail on Sunday first contacted the MoD this weekend, a spokesman confirmed it was investigating L/Cpl Croucher over his book deal.

He said military regulations banned serving soldiers from being paid for writing about their exploits, adding that there were issues of copyright and questions about whether other soldiers featured in photographs in the book had given their permission.

He said: 'There is a question about whether military regulations were followed.'

But within hours the MoD said, 'Things have moved on,' and issued another statement saying L/Cpl Croucher had been cleared. It added: 'An investigation has concluded that Corporal Croucher had followed the correct procedure. No disciplinary action will be taken. Any suggestion that he must repay any money is false.'

But the MoD failed to respond to questions about when the decision had been taken.

Last night a spokesman for L/Cpl Croucher said he was still waiting to hear from the MoD and had not been told the investigation against him had concluded. The spokesman said: 'Matt is working with the MoD to resolve this matter.'