Sunday, July 21, 2024

A Falklands veteran has called for a change in the law, after the disgraced former chief constable of Northamptonshire was found to have worn a medal (or replica of a medal) to which he was not entitled.

Tom Herring, the chairman of the South Atlantic Medal Association, told the BBC that the UK should look at introducing laws similar to other countries where wearing a medal without the right to do so can be a criminal offence.

Until 2006 it would have been a criminal offence under:

Click here - Section 197 of the Army Act 1955

197. Unauthorised use of and dealing in decorations etc.
(1) Any person who, in the United Kingdom or in any colony,—
(a) without authority uses or wears any military decoration, or any badge, wound stripe or emblem supplied or authorised by the [Defence Council], or
(b) uses or wears any decoration, badge, wound stripe, or emblem so nearly resembling any military decoration, or
any such badge, stripe or emblem as aforesaid, as to be calculated to deceive, or
(c) falsely represents himself to be a person who is or has been entitled to use or wear any such decoration, badge,
stripe or emblem as is mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection, shall be guilty of an offence against this  section:
Provided that nothing in this subsection shall prohibit the use or wearing of ordinary regimental badges or of brooches or ornaments representing them.

But that offence was removed by the Armed Forces Act 2006, presumably considered by the Blair government to be old-fashioned and no longer relevant to modern society, regardless of the fact that a new generation was earning campaign medals in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Does it matter? The original BAFF Steering Group did submit observations on the draft Armed Forces Act, but had nothing to say about medals.

Rather than 'Stolen Valour' (US 'Valor'), British veterans tend to speak of 'Walts', after the humorist James Thurber's fictional character Walter Mitty. Sad characters seen to be wearing unauthorised medals at remembrance parades are more to be pitied than hated.

 It can be unpleasant to realise that the 'old comrade' you're speaking to is nothing of the sort, and you don't want people to think that your own medals might not be real. Annoying certainly, but is it a matter for the criminal law?

A contrary argument is that service medals are officially-issued state emblems.

According to an international comparison by the House of Common Library, the wearing of medals or decorations not awarded is an offence in the vast majority of 17 countries examined, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA, as well as many continental European states.

Some think it may be time to revisit the issue in future legislation. The definition of any new offence should arguably include "with intent to deceive", so as not to criminalise the practice of wearing deceased relative's medals on the right, or the wearing of decorations by actors in films or plays. Legislation should, on the other hand, be framed to catch the wearing of realistic replicas on the same basis as real medals.






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