Army captain fined for breaking curfew by 24 minutes after going out for pizza on NATO frontline

Army captain is fined three days’ pay for breaking curfew by 24 minutes after going out for pizza while on NATO frontline in Estonia

  • A British Army Captain has been disciplined for breaking a NATO base curfew  
  • He claimed he was unaware the curfew had changed when he went for pizza 
  • The base commander changed the curfew time over troops’ misbehaviour   

A British Army Captain has been reprimanded by top brass after he broke a curfew by going out for pizza and returning to camp 24 minutes late while on the NATO frontline near the Russian border, a military court heard.

The camp’s Commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Streatfeild, had enforced a strict 9pm curfew after he was angered by troops late night antics at the start of the Russia-Ukraine war.

But the court heard that within the camp at Tapa in Estonia the commanding officer of The Royal Welsh battle group became concerned about ill discipline.

In May this year the curfew was shortened from 10.30pm to 9pm in order to ‘protect the reputation of the battle group’.

Captain James Shearer – who represented himself – told the court he did not know the curfew had changed to 9pm because he’d been on an armoured vehicle course that week.

The 31 year old intelligence officer, who is Scottish, was charged at a summary hearing by Lt Col Streatfeild and fined three days’ pay. 

Captain James Shearer arrives at Bulford Military Court Centre where he was fined three days' pay for breaching curfew

Captain James Shearer arrives at Bulford Military Court Centre where he was fined three days’ pay for breaching curfew

However, Cpt Shearer, of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, appealed this decision.

At a day-long summary appeal at Bulford Military Court, Wiltshire the judge and board members took just 20 minutes to uphold the Commanding Officer’s decision that he broke the rules by missing curfew.

Cpt Shearer told the court he would not contest the fine.

His Royal Welsh battalion took over as the lead unit of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Estonia, as part of operation Cabrit earlier this year – aiming to strengthen European security in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Representing the Crown, Lieutenant Commander Edward Hannah said: ‘On 7 May [Cpt Shearer] was deployed at camp Tapa in Estonia on operation Cabrit.

‘He knew there was a curfew in place which required him to return to camp by a stipulated time.

‘Prior to May 3 it had been 22:30, but it was changed.

‘Battle group part one orders were placed in guardrooms, HQ and other buildings.

The officer claimed he had not been aware the curfew time had changed at his base when he went for pizza and returned 24 minutes late

The officer claimed he had not been aware the curfew time had changed at his base when he went for pizza and returned 24 minutes late 

‘On May 7, Cpt Shearer signed out at 18:56 on the booking out sheet.

‘Cpt Shearer hadn’t returned to camp by 21:00. He returned to camp 24 minutes after curfew expired at 21:24.

‘[The Army] lays its case on the 21:00 curfew being an order he breached and may have been expected to know.’

Giving evidence, acting Major Matthew Ixer told the court Cpt Shearer, like everyone else, had ‘easy access’ to the orders online.

Maj Ixer, said the orders had been sent around the camp: ‘They are published on the [online] share point, which all have very easy access to.

‘They are also printed and published throughout camp.’

Maj Ixer told the court there was a meeting earlier that week where Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Streatfeild had been ‘irate’ and made the curfew earlier – with Cpt Shearer ‘certainly’ having been present.

‘The Commanding Officer told all of the majors, battlegroup staff and other senior people who were present – and made it explicitly clear – that the curfew was to change to 21:00,’ he added.

‘He was very irate, everyone was paying attention.’

Maj Ixer said Lt Col Streatfeild had changed the curfew time, not only to keep soldiers safe – but protect the battle group’s reputation.

He also told the court there was ‘no chance’ of confusing the two curfew times – as 800 other personnel had managed to comply with the change.

However, giving evidence himself, Cpt Shearer said he’d been on an armoured vehicle course the week the order was altered – meaning he was none the wiser come the Saturday evening he was accused of breaching it.

He also described the guard room as having orders ‘scattered around’ making it difficult to distinguish which was most recent.

‘I complied with orders that were made available to me,’ he continued.

‘There was no indication that the curfew time had been changed.’

Cpt Shearer told the court he and his colleagues ate pizza at a cafe two miles away.

He said the table was booked for 7.30pm and they were walking there and back which he claimed showed ‘pretty clearly’ they didn’t know of the curfew change.

However, the board and Assistant Judge Advocate General Jane England agreed with Lt Col Streatfeild’s decision.

Judge England said: ‘You went out on Saturday – we are sure you had ample opportunity to check part one orders and it was your duty to do so.

‘We find that the 21.00 curfew was a standing order and you were reasonably expected to have known it.

‘We therefore confirm the Commanding Officer’s finding.’

The decision means Cpt Shearer will be fined three days pay and results in him having a disciplinary record.

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