An Army sergeant was verbally abused by a group of Muslim women at a Birmingham hospital where British troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated, it was claimed yesterday.
Company Sergeant Major Neil Powell was reportedly surrounded and heckled by three women in an unprovoked attack at Selly Oak Hospital, where the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine is based.
It is not the first time the issue of security has arisen following claims of military personnel being abused by civilian visitors.
A £7,000 swipe-card system was introduced last year in a bid to tighten security after an injured paratrooper was threatened by a Muslim visitor who, it was reported, also abused him about the military's involvement in those war zones.
Together with CCTV, the new system was to allow nursing staff to identify visitors before they were allowed on to the wards.
CSM Powell, a welfare officer who works with injured troops, was on a regular ward visit when the incident happened on May 10.
The three women, who wore traditional Asian dress, ranted about the presence of British soldiers in Muslim countries. He told officers but declined to make a formal complaint, fearing any negative reports would impact on the morale of troops recovering on the mixed wards.
According to the Mail on Sunday, a colleague said: "He couldn't believe it. CSM Powell just had to stand there and take abuse from these screaming and very aggressive women. I don't think a guy would have got away with it.
"A lot of soldiers are worried that something more serious could happen. There isn't much security here."
When asked about the incident, CSM Powell was keen to play down the encounter.
"There was a minor incident. Sorry, I am not willing to talk about it," he said. "My concern is the morale of the fighting troops. I have my own opinions and part of my job is to address those opinions, but I also have a chain of command."
Selly Oak has a military-managed ward and has a handful of private rooms for the most severely injured soldiers, but some Armed Forces personnel are treated alongside civilian patients.
The standard of care offered to injured troops, as well as reported incidents of abuse from civilians, has prompted some military personnel to call for them to have greater protection. A decade ago there were eight dedicated military hospitals in Britain, but the Government announced plans to close them all in 1998.
Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Selly Oak, refused to back calls for more secure facilities for injured military patients.
"The soldiers seem to want a little empire consisting of their own designated staff and facilities, a fiefdom," she told the MoS. "The point of basing the RCDM at Selly Oak was to make the most of the range of experience there. The priority should always be the standard of clinical care. When I've visited the military ward it has been cluttered with staff."
Last night an MoD spokeswoman confirmed an incident had taken place at the hospital.
She said: "A military member of staff was heckled by a small group. He has no clear recollection of what was said and took no formal action.
"It would not be appropriate for me to comment on what Lynne Jones has said."