A female soldier was allowed to continue on an Army selection course even though she failed a vital fitness test – triggering a rebellion among male troops who had passed.
Corporal Daisy Dougherty was hoping to become one of the Army’s first female infantry instructors following the landmark decision last year to let women join combat units and Special Forces.
The first stage in the selection process required her to prove her fitness by completing an eight-mile march in under two hours over arduous terrain while carrying a heavy pack and a rifle.
Despite being a qualified personal fitness trainer and a member of the Army’s athletics squad, the 29-year-old took too long to finish the challenge. Under course rules, she should have been immediately ejected and sent back to her unit.
But Cpl Dougherty – the only woman on the course – and 14 others who also failed were told they could carry on, sparking a furious backlash among the 75 soldiers who passed the test.
The soldiers rounded on commanders at the Infantry Battle School in Brecon, Mid-Wales, accusing them of lowering standards to suit women. When top brass refused to back down, troops contacted The Mail on Sunday to expose what they claimed was ‘positive discrimination’.
Fearing a public backlash if they allowed her result to stand, commanders backed down and asked Cpl Dougherty and the other soldiers who failed the march to leave.
Last night, a soldier on the course said: ‘The blokes were livid because it is written in black and white in the course handbook that if you fail the march, you’re pulled off the PSBC [Platoon Sergeants’ Battle Course] immediately. There is no review.
‘Commanders wanted to get Cpl Dougherty through the course, almost at any cost, even if she wasn’t fit enough and even if that meant leniency being shown to weaker male soldiers who also failed the march. We couldn’t believe they were still on the base and attending classes. It took a revolt among the troops and some people going to the Press to get this stopped.’
When Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced last year that women could join infantry regiments, officials insisted standards would not be relaxed and said female candidates would have to be as fit as male soldiers.
Former SAS commander Tim Collins said that the Army faced a stark choice: ‘We can either abandon our ability to complete gruelling military operations in order to fall into line with political correctness or accept that there are some things females cannot do biologically.
‘If standards are modified to accommodate women, this will be utterly misguided.’
Cpl Dougherty, from Bulford, Wiltshire, has now returned to her unit in the Royal Army Physical Training Corps. It was unclear last night whether she intends to tackle the PSBC course again.
To date, only one woman has passed the seven-week course, which includes arduous field exercises, military tactics and weapons skills.
Official MoD sources admitted last night there had been ‘uproar’ on the course following the march and that it had taken more than a day for a decision to be taken on the fate of the 15 soldiers, including Cpl Dougherty. They added that she had been taken off the course following a ‘review’ of her result.
Last night, Colonel Peter Stitt, Commandant of the School of Infantry, said: ‘Infantry courses are some of the most demanding in the Army and not everyone is ready to undertake them at their first attempt.
‘Those not making the initial standard will receive feedback on their performance and have the opportunity to attempt the course again later on in their career.’