Police chiefs call for ‘stolen valour’ offence to criminalise false medals

Mr Adderley in uniform, wearing five medals
Nick Adderley was fired from Northamptonshire Police after wearing a Falklands medal despite never serving there

Policing chiefs are calling for a new “stolen valour” offence, to criminalise Walter Mittys who falsely claim to be war heroes.

Katy Bourne, police and crime commissioner for Sussex, is leading demands for a new law after the sacking of Nick Adderley, Northamptonshire chief constable, over his false claim to have served in the Falklands War.

Mrs Bourne, whose husband Kevin served in the Falklands as an artilleryman aged 19, said the UK should follow the lead of countries such as the US with a standalone “stolen valour” offence and fines or jail for the guilty.

The UK had an offence of falsely wearing medals or claiming a fake military career but it was repealed in 2009 when the Armed Forces Act 2006 took effect.

Now people such as Mr Adderley can only be prosecuted under wider fraud legislation, where it would have to be shown that they made their false claims in order to secure financial advantage. It carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

Mrs Bourne said a standalone offence would make it easier to prosecute offenders, and take account of how much they hurt and disrespected the families of true war veterans.

Ms Bourne leaving 10 Downing Street in 2023
Katy Bourne has called for a new law to be introduced - Alamy

“For a senior police leader to consistently make false claims about his military career is shameful and disrespectful to those who actually served in combat, including my husband who actually did serve in the Falklands conflict,” said Mrs Bourne, whose grandfather William won the military cross in the First World War.

“The first duty of a chief constable is the safety of the public which makes Nick Adderley’s behaviour all the more shocking and distasteful to the families of those who lost their lives to keep our country safe.”

“I am calling for stolen valour to be made a stand-alone offence as it is in America and will be starting a petition after the general election and ask for the Government, veterans and the wider public to support this.”

Donna Jones, chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said she backed the plans. “To every person who served in the Falklands, or in any conflict serving Queen or King and country, this is the ultimate insult.

“Other nations have already legislated to prosecute those who impersonate a veteran or a serving member of the Armed Forces; Britain needs to do the same,” she said.

“This country’s heritage is steeped in acts of bravery; without the bravery and certainly honesty and courage of tens of thousands of men, and more recently women, this country would not be what it used to be today.

A young man on the deck of a ship
Ms Bourne's husband Kevin, pictured serving in the Falklands - Katy Bourne

“To those that have served, we say thank you. To those that steal valour, consciously knowing what they are doing, we say: you should be prosecuted and face the prospect of prison. It’s an abhorrent crime. A coward’s act.”

Mr Adderley’s false claims about his military career were exposed after complaints about him wearing a South Atlantic Medal – which was awarded to those who served in the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina – when he would have only been aged 15 when the conflict started,

It subsequently emerged that he had also falsely claimed that he had reached the rank of lieutenant in the Royal Navy and that he was a military negotiator in Haiti in the 1980s.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is currently considering a file of the evidence to decide whether Mr Adderley should be prosecuted.

Federal crime in US

In the US, the Stolen Valor Act, introduced in 2013, makes it a federal crime to fraudulently claim to be a recipient of certain military decorations or medals to obtain money, property or any other “tangible benefit”. It carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail, on top of fines.

Germany, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Greece, Romania and Russia are among other countries to have specific stolen valour legislation which carries penalties of up to five years in jail.

A private member’s bill for a standalone offence in the UK was introduced in Parliament in 2016 by Gareth Johnson, Conservative MP for Dartford, backed by a petition signed by 11,000 people, but was scuppered by the election of that year.

It specified that relatives should remain free to wear their lost loved ones’ medals on the right breast in memory of their sacrifices and that military re-enactments or actors wearing them for dramas would be exempt.

A new stolen valour offence has also been demanded by Falkland war veteran Tom Herring, the chairman of the South Atlantic Medal Association. He said: “There should be a change in the law.

“We’re proud of our military and civilian forces and these people who put their lives on the line as and when their country needs them to, and they should be respected.”