Second officer removed for alleged improper relationship with female colleague on scandal-hit submarine

Ben Farmer
Cdr Stuart Armstrong, the boat’s commander, was earlier this week revealed to have been relieved of his duties after allegations his relationship with a female subordinate was “closer than it should have been” - Getty Images Europe

A scandal over conduct on a Royal Navy nuclear submarine has widened after it was disclosed that a second officer was also removed for an alleged improper relationship with a female colleague.

The submarine’s commander and his second-in-command were last week both taken off HMS Vigilant while Navy chiefs investigate the claims.

Cdr Stuart Armstrong, the boat’s commander, was earlier this week revealed to have been relieved of his duties after allegations his relationship with a female subordinate was “closer than it should have been”.

But the Telegraph understands that his right-hand-man, the submarine’s Executive Officer, was  removed at the same time amid allegations of a separate improper relationship with a different female subordinate. The Executive Officer has not been named.

Naval sources said the removal of the top two officers from a vessel was “highly unusual”.

As the allegations surfaced, two senior officers in the Submarine Service are understood to have flown from the naval base at Faslane to America, where the boat was deployed, to deal with the fallout.

It’s not a question of women on submarines or warships, it’s a question of standards

Naval source

A source familiar with the investigation said Naval chiefs were furious with the alleged breach of discipline in the secretive Submarine Service and deeply embarrassed that the situation had become public.

Relationships within the same command chain are banned onboard submarines and warships for fear they will lead to favouritism that undermines discipline and orders.

Relationships outside the same chain of command are allowed, but there is a strict “no touching” rule during deployments.

HMS Vigilant at Faslane in 2016 Credit:  Danny Lawson/PA

The incident comes only six years after the government removed a ban on women serving on submarines.

One Naval source familiar with the investigation said: “It’s not a question of women on submarines or warships, it’s a question of standards.”

Another Naval source said the men had been removed as a precaution “without prejudice” while the investigation continued.

They are believed to face a “full range” of possible punishments if they are found to be guilty of any wrongdoing.

HMS Vigilant is one of four Vanguard Class submarines armed with Trident nuclear missiles as part of Britain’s deterrent.

She was not on a nuclear deterrent patrol at the time of the alleged conduct and was visiting America. Vanguard Class submarines have a complement of 135 including 14 officers and spend months on top secret missions patrolling beneath the waves of the North Atlantic to maintain the nation’s deterrent.

Cdr Armstrong, from Helensburgh near Glasgow, took command of the boat in February.

A Royal Navy biography says the 41-year-old was previously involved in cruise missile strikes and reconnaissance against Libyan regime forces from HMS Triumphant during the 2011 campaign to oust Col Muammar Gaddafi.

A Royal Navy spokesman said the incident had not affected submarine operations. He said: “We can confirm an investigation is underway, but it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.   Any allegations of wrongdoing are taken very seriously and will be dealt with appropriately.”

The incident comes only three years after the first female commander of a warship was stripped of her command following claims she had a relationship with her married third-in-command. Cdr Sarah West, 41, was removed from command of the frigate HMS Portland in August 2014.

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