Veterans accuse Parachute Regiment of cover-up over charity tin fraud claims

Paras leap from a Chinook helicopter during a military exercise. Picture: Ministry 'of Defence
Paras leap from a Chinook helicopter during a military exercise. Picture: Ministry 'of Defence
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Large amounts of cash collected from the public for a military charity at venues in Scotland including football matches and railway stations by Parachute Regiment veterans have been misappropriated for over a decade, a number of their former comrades claim.

Para veterans who contacted Scotland on Sunday say the situation, which began around 2005, could involve up to £250,000 unaccounted for from collecting tins.

Veterans from branches across Scotland who raised concerns over financial irregularities and bullying at The Parachute Regimental Association Central Scotland Branch (now Glasgow and West of Scotland Branch of the Para Regiment Association) with Parachute Regiment headquarters in Colchester in Essex, believe an investigation was quashed to avoid reputational damage to the regiment in the run-up to the Bloody Sunday investigation. The Para Regiment has known for years the Bloody Sunday families were after them,” said a Para veteran. “The regiment will do anything to protect themselves. I understand that, but it can’t be an excuse for people to act like criminals and fleece the public in our name.”

On Sunday, 30 January, 1972, 13 people were killed and 15 wounded by soldiers from 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment (1 Para) at a civil rights march in Derry.

Lucrative collecting sites for military veterans’ organisations, including the Paras, involve football grounds such as Ibrox, which can generate revenues of over £6,000 a day, and railway stations such as Central and Queen Street stations in Glasgow, which can net approximately £5,000.

Minutes of a closed meeting, passed to Scotland on Sunday, held at Colchester in April 2014, to investigate complaints submitted by a host of branches across Scotland, reveal Lt Colonel Wills MBE saying he is “fundamentally clear that it leads to a clear-cut case of financial impropriety against Central Scotland branch with, at best, leaving it as gross mismanagement, at worst, it really could be industrial-scale fraud taking place at collection points”.

The meeting also discussed the reputational damage if details emerged.

Colonel (retired) Hicks OBE says: “We don’t need this in Scotland because if it does break, we are the ones who are going to be tarred with this particular brush and we can well do without it, but such is the feeling there and such is the knowledge.”

Veterans claim military officials were told problems began after a then serving member of the Parachute Regiment began attending meetings of the Central Scotland Branch in Glasgow, working his way up the committee structure and gathering supporters.

“A few of the guys questioned him about how much money was coming in and where it was going,” a Para veteran said. “He got furious and they were humiliated and ridiculed in front of everyone and booted out the branch because they had apparently broken some rule. Some of these guys lived for the Paras and to do this to them was intimidation and an attempt to silence them.

“Things went totally sour, so a load of the guys decided to leave and open a branch in Cumbernauld. But we were hearing the practices were continuing – collecting tins taken home to be counted, free trips being organised for this individual and his mates, donations being made, like £10,000 to the National Monument Association and to HQ, not through the books.

“We started complaining to Colchester about his treatment of the men and the financial irregularities. All the branches had a big meeting in Stirling and decided ‘enough’s enough’. Colchester got hundreds of complaints from branches in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife, Dundee and Aberdeen.” A fellow veteran said Colchester contacted Police Scotland.

A Police Scotland letter seen by Scotland on Sunday states they did not have enough evidence to substantiate a criminal offence, but banking procedures needed to be reformed. Veterans say despite an investigation by OSCR, Scotland’s charity watchdog, with recommendations to amend policies and practices, the alleged practices are continuing. Ministry of Defence said it would not comment.