Drug dealer turned Army sergeant urges military to relax rules on convicts joining the forces

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A British Army sergeant who enlisted after serving a prison sentence for drug dealing has said the military could benefit from more ex-convicts in its ranks.

Sgt Rhys Rutledge, 34, of 1st Batallion Welsh Guards is calling on top brass to ease tough rules preventing a smooth pathway for former inmates wanting to join up. 

When often asked if a criminal should be trusted with a gun, he replies: ‘Yes. Look at me.’  

The Afghanistan veteran, who has also guarded the Queen, was locked up for around eight months aged 19 for possession of a Class A drug with intent to supply. 

Serving over four years in custody usually bars convicts from enrolling in the army, and anyone who is locked up has to wait two years before they can join. 

Sgt Rutledge has urged for these restrictions to be watered down to allow more convicts to join so they are not ‘set up for failure’. 

Sgt Rhys Rutledge, 34, of 1st Batallion Welsh Guards is calling on top brass to ease tough rules preventing a smooth pathway for former inmates wanting to join up

Sgt Rhys Rutledge, 34, of 1st Batallion Welsh Guards is calling on top brass to ease tough rules preventing a smooth pathway for former inmates wanting to join up

Sgt Rutledge has also served in the Fawklands, Kenya and Belize

He launched the Defeat Don't Repeat scheme to help steer other wayward teenagers from a life of crime

Sgt Rutledge, who has also served in the Fawklands, Kenya and Belize, launched the Defeat Don’t Repeat scheme to help steer other wayward teenagers from a life of crime

He told the Telegraph: ‘Why can’t that individual be in a training establishment of some sort, where he is being supervised?

‘The probation service can still travel to him. It’s keeping his mind focussed, he or she will be on the straight and narrow.

‘This is where taxpayers money can be spent wisely. Instead of setting these individuals up for failure, let’s put them into something where they can give back to the country.’ 

Sgt Rutledge, who has also served in the Fawklands, Kenya and Belize, launched the Defeat Don’t Repeat scheme to help steer other wayward teenagers from a life of crime.

The programme draws on his own experiences. A former cocaine addict and drug dealer by 15, he served half of a 16-month sentence aged 19 – but resumed selling drugs within hours of his release.

He credits the army with ‘taking a chance’ on him in 2009 and rescuing him from rock bottom – mounting debts and suicidal thoughts.

He credits the army with 'taking a chance' on him in 2009 and rescuing him from rock bottom - mounting debts and suicidal thoughts

He credits the army with ‘taking a chance’ on him in 2009 and rescuing him from rock bottom – mounting debts and suicidal thoughts

When often asked if a criminal should be trusted with a gun, he replies: 'Yes. Look at me'

When often asked if a criminal should be trusted with a gun, he replies: ‘Yes. Look at me’

While sitting on his cot during a tour of Afghanistan, Sgt Rutledge’s mind went back to his former prison bed and life of crime, sparking the brainwave behind Defeat Don’t Repeat to help other youngsters turn their lives around, according to The Times.

The scheme was piloted for 13 pupils at London-based Pupil Referral Units last year at the Longmoor training camp in Hampshire.

The youngsters were put through their paces on assault courses and team-building activities, as well as Sgt Rutledge chronicling his own journey into the military.

He told The Times: ‘When I get asked, would you trust an ex-convict with a weapon system in the British army, the answer to that is: yes, look at me. 

‘I’m a platoon sergeant, I’m in charge of 20-plus blokes, running the platoon, orchestrating it and looking after every individual in that platoon.

‘Because I’m stood there in uniform, I give them the light at the end of the tunnel, that it is not all over.’ 

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