LONDON (Reuters) - The Ministry of Defence on Monday banned any more of the 15 sailors and marines held in Iran from selling their stories to the media, reversing a previous decision after widespread criticism.
Defence Secretary Des Browne announced a “review of the regulations” concerning payment for stories after defence experts, former military commanders and members of the public expressed outrage that some had profited from their captivity.
“No further service personnel will be allowed to talk to the media about their experiences in return for payment,” Browne said in a statement.
The ministry had faced a barrage of criticism after two of the captives, following permission to do so by the same ministry, sold their stories to the media.
Faye Turney, the 25-year-old mother who was the only woman captive, gave exclusive interviews to the leading tabloid newspaper and to a television news programme, earning what one newspaper said was 100,000 pounds.
She said the Iranians asked how she felt about dying for her country and warned she may never see her daughter again.
Iran freed the captives on Thursday, 13 days after surrounding their boats in what it said was its territory but Britain said was Iraq’s.
Arthur Batchelor, the youngest captive at 20, also sold his story, saying he “cried like a baby” in his cell after he was blindfolded, handcuffed and taunted by guards.
“The sailors and marines will regret it and realise it was not such a good idea to cash in,” Major General Sir Patrick Cordingly, a senior commander during the 1991 Gulf War, told BBC radio. “I hope they give all the money to charity.”
Some of the other 13 have spoken to the media without receiving payment for doing so.
While Turney and Batchelor were accused of behaving like reality TV stars, the strongest censure was directed at the Ministry of Defence, which originally said it had waived the rules barring such sales because of huge public interest.
In the past, such exceptions have been made for winners of Britain’s highest military medal, the Victoria Cross.
William Hague, foreign affairs spokesman of the opposition Conservatives, said his party would question the decision when parliament reopened on April 16.
Defence specialists and former commanders said the decision brought dishonour on the British military and accused the ministry of using the sailors and marines for propaganda.
Colonel Bob Stewart, former British commander of U.N. forces in Bosnia said he was “appalled” the captives had been encouraged to profit from what he termed a “military disaster”.
“Some of them are acting like reality TV stars,” he told the Sunday Times.
Iranian television showed new footage on Sunday of the 15 looking relaxed, playing table tennis and chess and watching a soccer match on television while they were in Iran, in apparent contradiction of the troops’ depiction of harsh treatment.
In her interview in the Sun newspaper on Monday, Turney said she heard wood being sawn and nails hammered near her cell, and a woman measured her with a tape.
“I was convinced they were making my coffin,” she said.
Servicemen and women are traditionally tight-lipped about their time in the forces, and families of soldiers killed in Iraq have not sold stories about the loss of loved ones.
The 15 said in a statement given at an official news conference at a military base after their return home that they had been stripped, blindfolded, bound, kept in isolation and threatened with up to seven years in jail.
The mother of a 19-year-old British soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq at the weekend said she would be “very shocked” if any of the detainees were paid for their stories.
“If you are a member of the military, it is your duty to serve your country,” Sally Veck, mother of Eleanor Dlugosz, told the Times. “You should do your duty and not expect to make money by selling stories.”