In 2016, there were senior officials in Downing Street who advocated for reining in the activities of the SAS. This call came amidst a growing number of investigations by military police into alleged murders of Afghan civilians by the elite military unit.

Leading the charge against the SAS’s behavior was Jeremy Heywood, who, at the time, served as the cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Theresa May. This information was revealed through a memo presented during a public inquiry into allegations of unlawful SAS killings in Afghanistan.

The memo, authored by David Neal, the head of Britain’s military police in September 2016, documented the existence of numerous critics within Whitehall regarding the SAS’s conduct, including direct criticism from other high-ranking officials.

The day before, Neal had a meeting with Stephen Lovegrove, the most senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Lovegrove expressed his concerns about a culture within Britain’s special forces, stating that they had pushed boundaries to an extent where there was a growing “loss of sympathy” for the UK special forces, especially within No 10 and the Cabinet Office. Some felt it was time to “clip their wings.” The memo also highlighted the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, as one of the detractors.

During this period, concerns were circulating regarding up to 80 deaths attributed to SAS deployments in Helmand province between 2010 and 2013. Many of these fatalities involved the shooting of Afghan civilians during SAS night raids.

The inquiry revealed that nine people were allegedly killed during one such raid while they were asleep, and several others were killed after allegedly brandishing a grenade or an AK47. Internal SAS communications even referred to one deadly incident as “the latest massacre.”

These concerns eventually led to the establishment of Operation Northmoor in 2014, a military police inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings by the SAS in Afghanistan. By 2016, the inquiry had identified a small number of elite unit members for potential arrest, and this progress was communicated to Downing Street.

In February 2016, a letter was sent to No 10, warning that “information from highly credible armed forces sources” indicated that the Royal Military Police was investigating numerous suspected cases of Afghan murders involving UK special forces. The letter was authored by Graeme Biggar, who served as the chief of staff to the then-defense secretary, Michael Fallon, and it was delivered to Simon Case, the official overseeing the prime minister’s office. Both Heywood and the attorney general, Jeremy Wright, were recipients of this correspondence.

This letter was also referenced in a statement to the inquiry by Richard Hermer KC, acting on behalf of the families of 33 Afghan victims. Hermer suggested that knowledge of suspected wrongdoing by UK special forces was prevalent at the highest levels of the government, and he urged the inquiry to investigate whether military police investigations might have been influenced by political pressure and improper interference.

Operation Northmoor was ultimately closed down in 2019, and no prosecutions resulted from it. Nevertheless, legal challenges on behalf of victims’ families and investigative journalism by the BBC and others led to the release of internal MoD materials, prompting the former defense secretary Ben Wallace to initiate a continuing public inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave.

An MoD spokesperson stated, “We cannot comment on allegations that may fall under the purview of the statutory inquiry. It is the responsibility of the statutory inquiry team, led by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, to determine which allegations warrant investigation.”

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.


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