JANET STREET-PORTER: Teenager Jaysley-Louise followed her dream of a military career but was driven to suicide. How many more deaths will there be before the Army stops telling women they can ‘live their best life’?
Gunner Jaysley Beck was thrilled to be accepted at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate. This bright 16-year-old believed it would give her the life she’d dreamt of.
Three years later, she was dead, believed to have taken her own life after enduring sexual assault and months of unwelcome harassment from senior male colleagues.
How did the Army serve Jaysley? Did it unlock her potential, as promised in their recruitment ads?
Quite the reverse. In a short time, Jaysley went from being a positive person doing a job she really enjoyed to someone too scared to sleep in her own bed at night, too frightened to report the officer who was making her life intolerable because she didn’t want to be seen as ‘a troublemaker’.
After completing basic training in Harrogate, Jaysley joined the Royal Artillery as a trainee gunner at Larkhill Camp in Wiltshire. Soon, a married senior officer embarked on an inappropriate relationship with her, and the young woman was subjected to a serious sexual assault by another of her bosses.
Royal Artillery Gunner Jaysley-Louise Beck, 19, killed herself after an ‘intense period of unwelcome behaviour’ from a superior
READ MORE: FEMALE RECRUIT, 19, WHO TOOK HER OWN LIFE DIDN’T WANT TO REPORT HARASSMENT TO BOSSES FOR FEAR OF BEING LABELLED A ‘TROUBLEMAKER’
In the two months before her death in December 2021, Jaysley received 4,600 WhatsApp messages from her line manager who was desperate to form a sexual relationship. They poured in from early in the morning until late at night. She could not turn her phone off because the man sending them was an instructor in charge of her work patterns. Finding herself in a difficult situation, the young woman did not want to reciprocate but was left feeling suicidal. Jaysley told her mum: ‘You can’t block your boss’.
The Army panel investigating her death has called the messages ‘unwelcome behaviour’. In reality, this was sheer harassment.
The sad story of Jaysley’s ghastly mistreatment by those supposed to be supporting and training her is even more appalling because the reality of day-to-day life for young female recruits seems to be a long way from what the advertising campaigns promise.
The British Army’s recruitment website wants girls to ‘join the one of the most women-friendly organisations in the world’. The UK is one of the only countries which takes children – people who can’t vote – into the military at 16 and 17. And how does it treat these vulnerable teenagers, young women who have been seduced by the promises of equal pay and equal opportunities?
If you are a young female recruit – as Jaysley was – you can expect to be harassed, bullied, and treated as the butt of crude jokes about your appearance and your sexuality. In 2021, MPs investigated the treatment of women in the armed forces and concluded that TWO THIRDS had experienced bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination.
As for justice, complaints are dealt with internally, those who are accused are usually not identified, and punishments do not seem to match the severity of the offences. The current system seems to have led directly to Jaysley’s sense of hopelessness.
Gunner Beck joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery, which is headquartered at Larkhill, at 16
Earlier in her time at Larkshill, she was assaulted by a Warrant Officer at a social event. The man grabbed her by the neck, and put both his hands between her legs. She shouted ‘get off me sir’. That night, she slept in her car, too frightened to sleep in her bed in case the assailant entered her room.
After she complained to superiors, the man concerned was told to write a letter of apology as part of his punishment. Her family believe this lenient treatment was one of the factors which could have stopped Jaysley from making any further complaints about the separate bullying WhatsApp messages.
The Army Foundation College at Harrogate where Jaysley embarked on her career accepts 1,300 teenagers every year aged 16 and 17. I lived in the same valley for over 20 years, and drove past it every week. The isolated Army base might only be a couple of miles out of town, but it is a world apart.
Harrogate is a posh spa town, with a gorgeous central area where multi-million pound Victorian and Edwardian mansions surround acres of lush green parkland called the Stray. I got married at Harrogate Registry office one Christmas and celebrated at the legendary Betty‘s tearooms, where you can feast on a Fat Rascal – a big bun with currants – washed down with champers or their special blend of tea.
The middle-class ladies of Harrogate pride themselves on dressing well and maintaining standards. Of course, there’s another Harrogate, out in the suburbs, the council estates and the terraces.
There are a number of drug addicts and rough sleepers like most British towns. But Harrogate sees itself as extremely genteel.
The Army college is very different: it sits on the very edge of town, surrounded by bleak moorland and new housing estates. The weather is freezing in winter, with gales and driving rain. No shops, no entertainment nearby. Sodden sheep and cows for company. Recruits have to take a bus or taxi into town to mix with the outside world and enjoy some innocent fun.
It’s an insular place – and for young teenage girls leaving home for the first time, with the Army taking the place of their family and school friends, it must be tough. As the Army conducts their own investigations into rule-breaking, it is hard to know how young female recruits cope with life in such a male-dominated environment, one where sexual harassment is know to be rife.
The Army does not want us to know the grim reality for young women on their bases.
An Army inquiry into her death heard evidence from witnesses about inappropriate sexual behaviour by male soldiers towards their female colleagues at Larkhill
Larkhill Barracks near Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. A report into Gunner Beck’s death said that a ‘significant minority’ of male soldiers would engage in sexually inappropriate behaviour
READ MORE: Armed forces launch new crackdown on sexual harassment in the military after two Red Arrows pilots are axed for ‘inappropriate behaviour’
Following a freedom of information request, it has emerged that over a period of 13 months (July 2022- August 2023) nine rapes at the Harrogate college were reported to the civilian police, along with two cases of sexual assault and two of voyeurism. The Army has not released any details of the victims or the alleged assailants, or the outcomes.
In 2021 alone, there were 22 cases of sexual harassment involving 3 members of staff at the Harrogate college. You might be surprised to discover that Ofsted inspectors rated the establishment as having ‘outstanding safeguarding mechanisms’ for it’s young recruits. In the past, instructors at the base have been dismissed for sexual abuse and bullying.
Why would any young woman report her superiors for inappropriate behaviour, groping and bullying, when she knows he will remain protected by the service? The Ministry of Defence is reluctant to name those who are guilty and continues to believe that only the military can conduct investigations into serious misconduct and decide the appropriate punishment.
If two thirds of any female workforce have experienced inappropriate and illegal behaviour, something isn’t working. In 2023, women deserve better. The internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Jaysley’s death concludes that ‘misconduct was commonplace amongst a significant minority of soldiers at the base’.
Put bluntly, stripping away the double-speak and blather, something is very wrong if older men can mistreat a young woman like this and remain anonymous.
Jaysley’s family want Defence Secretary Grant Shapps to reform the current process for dealing with sexual assaults.
How many deaths do there have to be before the Army stops telling women they can ‘live their best life’ in the Forces?
Only a mug would believe that now.
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