War Crimes Part Twenty-Seven – Edge, Crime and Punishment

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

Edge was mooching around the military port at Akrotiri, waiting for the Malcom Club wagon to pitch up for some tea and a bun. He had been helping the RLC guys chisel the rust off and undercoat with red lead one of the landing craft in the dock. A few days ago he had gone out to sea on it, been pitched over the side and waited to be “rescued” by the RAF Search and Rescue Wessex from RAF Akrotiri. As he bobbed totally alone in his life jacket and watched the landing craft disappear into the horizon, Edge had plenty of time to think about the meaning of his life. It was difficult not to feel sorry for himself, but as he waited for the helicopter that seemed as if it was never coming, self-pity turned to anxiety (Edge’s old friend) and then anger (where were the fucking Crabs?). He was grateful when the Wessex chattered overhead and the rescue crewman came down on the winch to strop and lift him into the aircraft.
“Did you think we’d forgotten about you?” the winch operator asked rather irritatingly as he dragged Edge into the helicopter.
Edge decided that being under open arrest had its advantages as well as its disadvantages. The army wanted him out of the way until the date of his court martial was finalised. He was loaned to the RAF in Akrotiri and he had the opportunity to do odd jobs he never dreamed he would get to do, as well as see how the RAF carried out their strange business. One thing he noticed about the Crabs was that they all did their day jobs. The aircraft were constantly operational and it took a lot of people to keep them in the air. He saw aircraft that he had only heard about in novels and even did a stint painting (naturally) the Ops centre, where he was given an insight into ongoing air operations over northern and southern Iraq. It was fascinating to see the sorties being conducted in real time. Little electronic dots, the tankers waiting for their thirsty customers. All in all, he was mostly treated in a kindly and adult manner, despite the fact he was facing very serious charges.
The disadvantages were that he couldn’t leave the Sovereign Base Area, was not allowed to consume alcohol and had to be confined to his quarters when not working, in the gym or in the mess. This gave him the opportunity to read avidly and Edge became re-acquainted with favourites from his younger life. He marvelled at how good some of the early Fredrick Forsyth stuff was, as well as Peter Benchley and how badly his books had been portrayed on screen, Jacqueline Bisset’s nipples notwithstanding. He had written to his mother, a very difficult thing for him to have done, and explained to her what had happened on the rugby tour in Germany. He was anxious because she hadn’t replied yet. And he was smoking more than he knew he should and hated himself for it.
A vehicle came down the hill towards the dock, an RAF Police Land Rover and not the Malcom Club Wagon.
“Now what have you been up to, Edgie?” asked an RLC corporal, looking up from painting the side of the RCL.
Edge’s heart sank as an RAF Police corporal opened the door of the wagon and waved him over.
Edge was wearing a green boiler suit and he pulled on his beret and reluctantly went over to the Land Rover.
“Lance-corporal Edge? Someone wants to see you in the Station Education Centre.”
“Any idea who?”
“No, mate. Don’t ask me, I’m only the bloody chauffeur. Just get in.”
As they drove to the base, the RAF policeman seemed chatty enough, “All I know is that it’s some civvie that came in on the VC10 this morning. He’s caused a bit of a stir and they’ve sent for your accused’s friend from Dhekelia.”
Edge chewed his lip and wondered what the hell was going on. At the station education he was shown into an empty classroom and waited for about thirty minutes until his accused’s friend, Lieutenant Gardner came in. Edge stood up politely.
“Hello, Edge. What the hell’s going on?”
“Wish I knew, sir.”
“How is everything? Are you being treated all right by our Crab friends?”
“They’re OK, but I’d rather be back with the Battalion.”
“Perhaps after the court martial,” Gardner said, but Edge could tell by the way he looked away, that the officer didn’t think that was likely.
They heard voices outside and a small, beetle-like man with a shock of unkempt white hair bustled into the classroom. He was wearing a three-piece, cream, linen suit and had pince-nez glasses perched on his nose.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said imperiously to the RAF education officer and scrutinised the two soldiers in the room, “Lance-corporal Edge I presume?”
He looked at the officer, “And who are you?”
“I’m Lieutenant Gardner. I’m the accused’s friend.”
“How nice, now in the nicest possible way, bugger off.”
Gardner bristled angrily, “I’m here to advise and look after Edge in a pastoral rather than a legal sense. And just who the hell do you think you are?”
The man gave a start as though the question was the most grievous impertinence, “Why I’m Horace Cutler QC. I have been commissioned to represent Mr Edge during his upcoming Court Marshal. Now Lieutenant Gardner, I’m glad that you have Mr Edge’s best interests at heart, however, whatever you call yourself, you are part of the system. You are therefore the enemy. What I have to say to Mr Edge is privileged information that is only to be shared by a legal representative and his client. Be so good as to leave would you?”
It was clear the Lieutenant was fizzing as he left the room, “I’ll be outside when you’ve finished, Lance-corporal Edge.”
Mr Horace Cutler QC looked at a bemused Edge and smiled, “Sit down laddie.”
He took the chair opposite on the other side of the table, “Now, your mother, who is a charming and remarkable woman by the way, has commissioned me to represent you at your court martial. And take your bloody hat off. You’re indoors now.”
“But what about the Army’s legal defence that was taking my case?”
“About as much use as Doctor Crippen’s defence team. I on the other hand, could get you off the maximum sentence and save your career. But only if that’s what you want. I don’t believe in wasting your mother’s money.”
“Of course I want to get off. What sort of question is that? And where did mum get the money from?”
Cutler opened his briefcase and removed a Dictaphone, lay it on the table between them and started to record the conversation, “Edge, I want you to tell me everything that happened that night, including the assault of the German policeman and what happened after it until you were released back into British custody.”
Edge did his best, but it wasn’t enough. He shrugged and stared miserably at Cutler’s watch chain. Cutler looked down and pulled out his pocket watch, “You seem interested in this, Edge. It’s a half-hunter. Do you know the difference between a full and a half-hunter watch?”
Edge shook his head.
“Look carefully at the back of the watch,” Cutler said holding it up by the chain in front of Edge’s face, “You can see the inner workings. Aren’t they beautiful?”
Edge looked closer at the tiny cogs with their jewelled movement and he began to tell Cutler every little detail of what had happened. He spared nothing. He told him about his final game winning pass. His desperation to stay sober so he could make love to Alicia. The moon on the trees in the park. The jolting violence perpetrated by the German policeman on the helpless Scooby. The pain as the asp smashed into his face and the sound of a knee joint being destroyed by a karate kick. The beating in the cells. The reconstructive surgery on his face at the RAF hospital and his aching longing for a girl called Alicia who had picked up the policeman’s asp and her friend called Orinoco, who had tried to get him drunk to make recompense for a late tackle.
Edge looked away from the watch and blinked, “It’s no good. I’m sorry Mr Cutler. I just can’t remember.”
Horace Cutler turned off the Dictaphone and smiled sadly at Edge, “My young friend, you are in fathoms of shit. The German police are happy for you to be prosecuted at court martial, because they know you will likely go down for two years hard. Much more than they could ever sentence you with in the German civil courts. You yourself have admitted to assaulting the German policeman, who is now unable to walk without assistance. And it serves the bastard right. They know that a court martial will do you up like a kipper, as some of my former clients have protested, because the military defence teams are so woefully ill-prepared.”
“So that’s it.”
Cutler put the recorder back into his briefcase, like it was the most precious thing in the world, “Edge, I do this job because I hate injustice. People like you are not well served in military courts, and I do what I do as a way of repaying you and your kind for you doing what you do, so that my wife, my children and I can sleep safely in our beds. Of course some of you are incredible scrotes, the scum of the earth as Wellington rather unkindly put it. But the fees are good, although I won’t touch time-wasters.
“Your mother was right. There is something about you. Yes, I know all mothers say that about their little soldiers, but in your case it’s true. Although she may be rather shocked to have known about her son’s intentions with Alicia.”
“Are you going to represent me?” Edge asked, wondering how the QC knew about Alicia.
“I’ll see you in Germany. Keep calm, try not to worry and don’t do anything silly.”

*

Edge’s court martial was held in Sennelager and by now he was under close arrest. He had to march everywhere without headdress and under escort at all times. When not in the court martial suite or the mess, he was locked in the cells. Edge was finally beginning to understand how much trouble he was in.
The first day was spent enduring the procedural wrangling, while the niceties of the court martial’s battle rhythm was finalised. Cutler immediately sought to stamp his moral authority over the court and protested vociferously over the phraseology of the prosecution case. He complained in no uncertain terms to the Judge Advocate:
“The wording of the prosecution’s case has very little bearing on what would be acceptable in an English Court of Law, Judge. It has the fingerprints of the Boche police all over it!”
The Judge Advocate who was himself a civilian barrister and an appointee by the Judge Advocate General, agreed tacitly, “But, my learned friend, it may take days to re-write the case for the prosecution.”
Cutler was having none of it, “The prosecution must have prepared their case back in the Thomas More Building, before the Feldgendamerie started poking in their grubby noses. That should be accepted case for the prosecution, as this is a British court, albeit overseas. And there is another totally unacceptable thing, Judge.”
“I was rather afraid there would be…”
“The refusal of the German policeman to take the stand. He is the prosecution’s cardinal witness. His witness statement must not go unchallenged. That is pivotal to the defence’s case.”
“We can’t force him to take the stand,” the Judge Advocate said, knowing full well where this was going.
“Very well, I shall write to the Advocate General’s department moving for a dismissal, due to the prosecuting council’s failure to make a reasonable case,” Cutler told him, bristling with righteous indignation. The prosecution’s case was re-submitted that night.
Edge only heard of the political manoeuvring much later, but he was struck by how belligerent Cutler was and how little time he had for the trappings of military law. Before the court martial got properly underway, Cutler had a long session with Edge that lasted well into the evening.
“It’s as I suspected, Mr Edge. They want to throw the book at you. They have played the victimhood card for this German policeman early, citing how you have effectively crippled him and how he will never have gainful employment ever again. I’m not going to bullshit you laddie. I can win this, but it won’t be nice. Have you ever watched the film, The Cain Mutiny?”
Edge shook his head, “No but I’ve read the book several times.”
If Cutler was surprised, he didn’t show it, “Well if I’m to get you off the maximum sentence, note that I can’t get you off it, I’m going to have to do to Herr Brauer what Greenwald did to Captain Queeg. Are you honestly happy with that?”
“I can’t say I’m happy about anything, Mr Cutler.”
“Oh really. But you’re quite prepared to let me destroy a man’s career and reputation, because you couldn’t hold your beer at a bloody rugby tournament. Because you couldn’t get to jig-a-jig with a little RAF girl, you want me to finish the reputation of a German public servant that you’ve already managed to cripple. Happy?”
Edge put his hands on the desk and bent forward. He was shaking with emotion. When he looked back up, Edge’s face was drawn with misery, “Mr Cutler, I didn’t set out to do this. I’m in this situation because I went to help a stupid and annoying RAF bloke, who was being beaten, and I got a good shoeing myself, across the face with a steel bar and later in the cells of a German police station. I was pissing blood for a week and had to have reconstructive surgery on my face. You weren’t there that night. That man was like something demented. He was out of control and I honestly thought he was going to kill Scooby. Perhaps I should have let him, but I got angry at the injustice of it all. No I’m not happy, but I don’t want that bastard to do it to anyone else.”
Cutler reached across the table and clasped Edge’s forearms, “It’s all right, Edge. I had to be sure you have the moral fibre to go through with this. Your mother regrets she couldn’t be here to support you. I advised her not to come and waste her money, hers I note, not your father’s. She is desperately worried about you and is longing to see you. I will speak to her tonight and every night so she knows how the trial is going. And you’re right, Scooby is extremely annoying, but he and your lady friend will make very credible witnesses. I’ve made sure of that.
“Right, this is how we’ll play it. When on the stand you will say as little as possible. Try to avoid the traps the prosecution will set for you. I will pose an objection when I think that you are incriminating yourself. You must then try to take a different tack. Take your time and don’t blurt out answers. Think before you answer and take all the time you need, it disconcerts lawyers who like to get into a rhythm. You’ll be pleased to know that I managed to track down two of your playmates from the night in question, thanks to a charming chap who calls himself Orinoco for some bizarre reason. Let SACs Scotton and Alicia Meredith do the work for you. You have excellent taste by the way.
“The jury is of seven due to the severity of the offence and is comprised mainly of warrant officers. This can be good or bad as some warrant officers believe in a flogging for an undone button. If necessary I’ll call a final witness, unknown to you, but this will be the nuclear option. All right, Mr Edge? Let’s nail this violent bastard.”

*

The first day was spent by the prosecution team building their case against Edge. It was a relatively simple exercise given the undisputed facts and Cutler had to intervene on several occasions when Edge was asked if he had anger issues. Cutler pointed to his exemplary disciplinary record, his commendation during the firefight with the IRA active service team, during which his sergeant had been killed. But the facts wouldn’t go away. Edge had admitted to assaulting a German policeman after having consumed significant amounts of alcohol. At the end of the first day he was despondent.
“You were right. They are going to do me up like a kipper.”
Cutler took off his black gown and folded it, “Mr Edge, a court case isn’t a battle, it’s a long campaign that is sometimes full of setbacks. You should know this from your military history. They had their day and would have been pretty inept had they not. It is an open and shut case regarding your guilt. We now have to embellish the story. And for heaven’s sake try and be more animated when on the stand. They may be officers, but you have gone face to face with IRA bastards and prevailed. Tomorrow we come out fighting…

*

“Lance-corporal Edge. How drunk were you on the night in question?” Cutler asked.
“I wasn’t drunk at all, sir.”
The opposition objected as this was a matter of personal opinion. Undeterred, Cutler continued his theme, “Why are you so sure you were not intoxicated?”
“Because I had met a girl after the rugby match and we both wanted to have sex.”
Some of the jury smirked, which was noted by Cutler, who had warned Edge to within an inch of his life, not to let slip that it was Alicia Meredith who was the target of his affection that night.
“I think we’ll gloss over that, Edge. Why did you go into the park with SAC Meredith?”
“To look for Scooby, sorry, SAC Scotton, because he’d gone missing and was quite drunk.”
Don’t play that up too much, Edgie Boy, “And what did you see in the park?”
“I saw SAC Scotton on the ground, rolled up into a ball, while a German policeman I now know as was Polizeiobermeister Brauer, was beating him with a long thin object.”
“How did you know it was SAC Scotton?”
“Because he was howling like a girl as the copper kept hitting him.” He won’t thank you for that and you’ve just made yourself sound callous, you bloody idiot, “What happened then, Edge, and stick to the facts please?”
“I ran at the policeman and shouted at him to stop.”
“Did you strike the police officer?”
“No.”
“Did you push him?”
“No.”
“How did the policeman react when you shouted at him?”
“He swung the bar round and hit me with it, backhanded across the face. I felt my nose go and my cheekbone.”
“Why did you kick the policeman in the knee, Lance-corporal Edge?”
“Because he was side on to me, squaring up for a second strike. I was between Scoo… SAC Scotton and the policeman and I was unarmed. I knew what damage he could do with that bar so I took him out.”
Oh you bloody fool, Edge! You’ve just thrown away all the sympathy you had, “Was it really necessary to cause such severe trauma to the German policeman who was after all, only going about his lawful business?”
“I can’t see how beating an unarmed man who is lying on the ground, can be classed as “lawful business,” sir. Is it standard operating procedure to..?”
“If we can just stick to the facts please, Lance-corporal Edge,” Cutler cut in hurriedly, “After you kicked Polizeiobermeister Brauer, what did you do?”
“Together with SAC Meridith we pulled Scotton to his feet and carried him, well half carried really, back to the bar to phone an ambulance. His head was covered in blood and he seemed to be partially conscious.”
The prosecution council immediately objected, “Supposition. The Lance-corporal has insufficient medical training to ascertain a Glasgow Coma Scale reading.”
The Judge Advocate had no choice but to agree.
Smartarse. Cutler ignored the objection. She had made her point.
“Edge, did you at any time continue to kick Polizeiobermeister Brauer whilst he lay helpless on the floor.”
“No, sir.”
“In his statement, Polizeiobermeister Brauer insists you lay into him, kicking him when he was helpless,” Please don’t call him a liar.
“He is mistaken, sir. Me and SAC Meredith had our hands full with SAC Scotton.”
Good lad, “Thank you, Edge. My learned friend’s witness.”
The prosecution council stood up and flipped the tails of her black robes. She made a show of looking at the notes she had compiled and drew out the silence for dramatic affect. Cutler smiled to himself. Pompous arse.
“Lance-corporal Edge, did you go looking for trouble that evening? Perhaps because you failed to kick the drop goal for your team during that afternoon’s match?”
Edge gave a little snort.
“Oh I’m glad you find it amusing, Edge. But I put it to you that your nerve went at the crucial moment and you fluffed that final kick.”
She’s goading you, son. Don’t fall for it. Remember what I told you. Dignity at all times.
“A teammate was in a better position. It was an easy pass, a no-brainer. Did you watch the match, ma’am?”
Dangerous territory, Mr Edge.
The prosecution council scowled with magnificently sculpted brows, “So this girl you had met, the one who you said you wanted to have sex with. Did she fall out with you? Change her mind because you were too drunk?”
“No, ma’am.”
“So you went out into the night, spoiling for a fight and you came across Polizeiobermeister Brauer who was lawfully arresting a drunk. So you thought you’d have a little piece of the action.”
“It didn’t happen like that.”
“And you took him by surprise and decided to, what’s that expression you used, take him out?”
I bloody knew that would do damage.
“I was the one who was attacked, ma’am.”
“Oh really? Do you know, Lance-corporal Edge, I’m quite willing to believe that you didn’t continue to attack Polizeiobermeister Brauer while he was helpless on the ground. You didn’t need to as you’d already crippled him for life and destroyed his civic career! No further questions…”
 

© Blown Periphery 2018
 

Audio file