Two Household Cavalry soldiers have been cleared of racially harassing their Northern Irish counterparts after they claimed that jokes about him being an IRA terrorist were just a “bullshit joke”.
Roopers Maxwell Nicholls and Declan Coutts were also acquitted of attacking a Muslim colleague in the venerable regiment traditionally responsible for protecting Queen Elizabeth.
The two acknowledged that they called Soldier Scott Alexander “Gerry Adams” and “terrorist” and made IRA taunts, but said such jokes were part of their teasing culture.
Young roommates, Tpr Alexander, told a court-martial that he felt “depressed” and was subjected to pranks and physical attacks, including strangulation.
However, the couple refused to carry out “malicious” attacks, with Tpr Nicholls claiming it was part of “rough and tumble” Army life, and Tpr Coutts said Tpr Alexander was “good at doing it but didn’t take it”.
Best friends Tpr Nicholls (22) and Tpr Coutts (24) were acquitted of racially harassing Tpr Alexander and attacking his Muslim colleague, Tpr Azaan Aziz-Sheikh.
All four soldiers were trainees in the historic Household Cavalry in Windsor, one of the most senior in the Army.
Wiltshire, Tpr Nicholls and Tpr Coutts stood side by side in uniforms with their arms at their sides and expressionless faces, as the board found not guilty on all nine charges in Bulford Military Court.
After the panel left the courtroom, they turned to each other and smiled, Tpr Coutts said “wow” and noted how his hands were shaking.
Tpr Nicholls of Essex and Tpr Coutts of Scotland were accused of racially aggravated assault on Tpr Alexander between July and November 2020.
Tpr Alexander claimed that while they were sharing a room in Windsor’s Combermere Barracks, they squashed him and called him “IRA c***”, strangled him and put him around his neck, hid his belongings and wet the bed.
Tpr Nicholls and Tpr Coutts told the court that they denied the attacks and that their roommates only took part in the jokes, which were “harmless horseplay” and were enjoyed by all trainees.
Tpr Nicholls, now a Mounted Officer with the Blues and Royals in the Household Cavalry, said: “We never attacked him. We had violent jokes going on, never attacks on Alexander.
“They were just jokes played back and forth. There was shaving foam and we used to bungee people in their beds – Alexander gave it back to me.
“It was rough and tumble, not malicious. Everyone who was joked gave it back to them. I have never strangled or strangled Alexander… [The pranks] never done aggressively. ”
Tpr Coutts, who is now also in the Blues and Royals, said: “He was good at delivering it but not the best at taking it. But he never clearly wanted us to stop.
“We never made malicious comments about the IRA or called it ‘IRA c***’, we made jokes about the IRA and Gerry Adams.
“This was something me and Alexander did together. He used to make jokes and references to Gerry Adams and we were both going with him.
“I can appreciate that jokes about the IRA can be extremely offensive, but if someone from this legacy is making these jokes, then he can be played with.
“Everyone’s heritage has been talked about. I’m from Scotland so I’ve had comments about Scottish independence and ‘go home to your sheep and your Highland cows’.
“Nicholls got references to Essex and wearing a fake tan.”
The “Inseparable” couple were also acquitted of battering Tpr Aziz-Sheikh after a drunken trainee night in Windsor.
Tpr Coutts, who has martial arts and boxing experience, admitted to being punched in the face at his barracks, but his battery cleared up after he told a panel he was ‘aggressive’.
Tpr Nicholls, who said he had had more than 10 drinks, was accused of kicking Tpr Aziz-Sheikh in the face but was acquitted.
Halfway through the trial, Tpr Nicholls was acquitted of racially abusing the Muslim soldier after he was allegedly made insulting remarks about Mashallah. He was also accused of describing Islam as “a hoax”.
Lawyers Eleanor Lucas and Cathryn Sutcliffe, who represent Tpr Nicholls and Tpr Coutts, said their alleged victims were making up stories “as it went on.”
Captain Bruce Crampton said Tpr Nicholls showed promising signs of leadership and had a “good moral character”.
Tpr Coutts was previously in the Royal Naval Reserves and planned to become a teacher before joining the Army.
Troop leader Captain Lane Fox said he was a “natural leader” and the type who “stopped group pranks when he felt he had crossed the line”.
Tpr Nicholls and Tpr Coutts were both cleared of racially aggravated battery, regular battery, and a conduct charge related to their behavior towards Tpr Alexander.
Tpr Nicholls was acquitted of two batteries to Tpr Aziz-Sheikh, and Tpr Coutts of one battery to the same soldier.