Sunderland Gulf War veteran's battle to clear name after South Shields Army ban
A “disgusted” Army veteran has spoken about the lengthy battle to clear his name after he was barred from his former battery just months after he retired.
Sunderland-born David Cook, who now lives in South Shields, served in the second Gulf War during a 34-year career and rose to the rank of staff sergeant.
Latterly serving with the 101st (Northumbrian) Regiment Royal Artillery, he was invited to become chairman of the Durham Volunteer Artillery Association (DVAA), consisting mainly of veteran soldiers, after he was invalided out of the forces in late 2018 following an arm injury.
Just months later, however, he says he was pressurised into standing down amid disputed allegations that he made “derogatory comments” about former colleagues while supposedly “under the influence of alcohol” at an association meeting.
While a subsequent ban on entering the artillery’s 205 Battery in Northfield Gardens, South Shields, where the DVAA holds meetings, was later lifted, Mr Cook still feels his “reputation has been tarnished” and has written repeatedly to the artillery and Ministry of Defence (MoD) to try to discover the exact evidence against him.
Mr Cook, 57, who works in Sunderland as an adult care co-ordinator, said: “The allegations that I was derogatory to two soldiers whilst under the influence of alcohol could not be further from the truth.
"I had the car and I don’t drink and drive.
"This has been upsetting and distressing to me and my family and we are unable to understand where and why this allegation has come from.
"I am disgusted and angry at the way I have been treated after 34 years of exemplary service.”
Mr Cook, who said he was also denied a leaving presentation and welfare package on leaving the Army, is supported by Dave Kelly, the DVAA’s branch treasurer, who has known him since 1992.
Mr Kelly said he was present at the April 2019 DVAA meeting and added: “He would not have had a drink because he drove in as he works all types of daft hours.
"It is not in his nature to be critical of people either or to put them down. He always sees the good in people and I think the way he has been treated has been unacceptable.”
After Mr Cook made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to see the evidence against him, the MoD told him in a letter that it could not release the information “as it would disclose the identities of third parties and be a risk to their right to privacy”.
In a separate letter sent to Mr Cook, who also served in the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery and the 4th Field Royal Artillery Regiment, they state: “The complaint alleges that, whilst attending a meeting of the Durham Volunteer Artillery Association (DVAA) in your capacity as chairman, you made offensive and discriminatory comments specifically to an individual, and further derogatory comments about other serving members of the regiment, all whilst appearing to be under the influence of alcohol.
"An investigation into these allegations has identified supporting testimonies and I therefore, having taken legal advice, find that on the balance of probabilities, the incident did occur.”
The Army have since added in a statement: “Staff Sergeant David Cook left the Army Reserve on reaching the age of 55, the normal retirement age for an Army Reserve soldier.
"The date and conditions of his discharge were not affected by injury.
“Following his service, he was a member of the Durham Volunteer Artillery Association (DVAA), a veterans’s association affiliated with 205 Battery Royal Artillery.
"The association normally hold monthly meetings at the Army Reserve Centre in South Shields, but these meetings are currently suspended due to Covid-19.
"The decision to remove him as Chair following the incident in April 2019 was taken by the members of the Association.
“The incident and subsequent complaints from Staff Sergeant Cook were investigated and dealt with at the time.
"There are no open investigations or sanctions in place. There is no ban on Staff Sergeant Cook attending the Army Reserve Centre as part of DVAA activities when they are able to resume.”