Military court judge blasts top brass after delays of 11 months

Military court judge blasts top brass on flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth and says communication ‘would have been quicker using a carrier pigeon’ after case of senior officer hitting junior sailor in ‘pickle night punch-up’ is delayed by 11 months

  • Assistant Judge Advocate Jane England made the comments during a hearing
  • Chief Petty Officer Michael Smith, 48, punched a junior sailor lying on the floor
  • He has been given a £1,800 fine but a decision to demote him was overturned

A judge at a military court has blasted disciplinary procedures on board Royal Navy flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth after a case was delayed by 11 months – ‘claiming it would have been quicker to send a carrier pigeon’.

Assistant Judge Advocate Jane England described processes on board the £3.1 billion aircraft carrier as ‘unacceptable’ and delays in the case coming to court martial as ‘lamentable’.

She made the comments during a case at Bulford Military Court concerning a senior officer who punched a junior sailor while he was lying on the floor following a party commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar on board the carrier.

Chief Petty Officer [CPO] Michael Smith, 48, who has been in the Navy for 22 years, punched Leading Aircraft Engineering Technician [LAET] Jordan Street during the ship’s first operational deployment. 

Chief Petty Officer Michael Smith, 48, pictured arriving at Bulford Military Court after an 11-month delay

The incident occurred on the flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first deployment

He shoved the junior engineer and hit him as he lay on the floor during a ‘Pickle Night’ celebration in a senior sailors’ mess on HMS Queen Elizabeth, the court heard.

LAET Street had been working at the Navy party for senior sailors but was kicked out and assaulted by CPO Smith who saw he was drunk and chatting in an ‘animated’ way to senior rates.

As CPO Smith appealed his demotion, Judge England criticised the 11 month delay in dealing with the case on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, and said it was a ‘mitigating’ factor in CPO Smith’s case.

Sitting at Bulford Military Court, Wilts, she said: ‘The ship must review the way it deals with summary hearings.

‘The delay is lamentable.

‘It was hanging over both you and LAET Street for 11 months which is unacceptable.

‘Despite the communications problems [the ship was experiencing,] the delay was due to poor administration by your ship, it would have been quicker to send a carrier pigeon.’

The argument between CPO Smith and LAET Street happened in November 2021 as sailors celebrated Pickle Night.

Pickle Night is the Royal Navy’s way of commemorating the victory of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Lord Vice-Admiral Nelson on 21st October 1805.

Celebrated only by Senior Ratings and Warrant Officers, participants traditionally wear 1805 Navy uniform and those attending eat everything out of one bowl, drink beer and rum and sing sea shanties.

The court heard CPO Smith – who is married, and has an 11 year old daughter – believed LAET Street was too drunk, and told him to leave the mess.

LAET Street – who had been working behind the bar in the mess – had been invited to stay and socialise after the event had finished.

When CPO Smith later saw him speaking to other senior sailors in an ‘animated’ fashion he decided to intervene, pushed him outside and ended up ‘punching’ LAET Street ‘on the floor,’ the court heard.

CPO Smith punched a junior sailor while he was lying on the ground, and now has to pay a £1,800 fine

LAET Street – who ‘did not throw a single punch back’ – suffered a cut to his mouth and bruising to his lip and eye.

Commander Matthew Rees, prosecuting, said: ‘Street had been asked to work at the bar and had been invited to stay and socialise.

‘[CPO Smith and LAET Street] had a discussion in which he told LAET Street it was time for him to go.

‘Later in the night, an argument took place which led to CPO Smith punching LAET Street while he lay on the floor.

‘[A witness] saw CPO Smith on top of LAET Street.

‘LAET Street did not throw a punch back.

‘The day after, CPO Smith met with LAET Street in person to apologise.

‘LAET Street suffered a dental abrasion to the right hand side of his mouth.. [He suffered] an injury to his left eye and right upper lip.’

In a victim impact statement read to the court, LAET Street said the incident left him struggling to sleep.

LAET Smith, who has served 12 years in the Navy, and is married with children, said: ‘I am struggling to sleep… and the attack has left me questioning if I should continue my career.’

Judge England told CPO Smith: ‘You punched [LAET] Street on the floor – that was gratuitous violence, you should have just walked away.’

The decision to demote CPO Smith in rank was overturned, and he will instead be severely reprimanded and ordered pay a fine of £1,800, equivalent to four weeks wages.

CPO Smith will retain his current rank.

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