Attack on candidate's service record sad - Starmer

Johnny Mercer
Mr Mercer made the accusations at a hustings in Plymouth on Wednesday [Reuters]

Sir Keir Starmer has criticised a political candidate who accused his rival of lying about his military record.

The Labour leader said Conservative Johnny Mercer was "sad and desperate" after he claimed Fred Thomas, a former Royal Marine standing for Labour in the constituency of Plymouth Moor View, was never "in combat missions" as was reported in the Guardian in 2023.

Mr Mercer, a former Army officer and veterans' minister, said Mr Thomas "should be held to account" after accusing him of "boasting" his military service.

Mr Thomas said he remained "unable to discuss much of my service".

Speaking to reporters in London, Sir Keir said Mr Thomas was a veteran "who's got a proud record of service".

He said the comments showed the Conservatives were "party first through and through and country second" which was the "wrong way round".

"I think this is sad desperation that the veterans minister is attacking another veteran who's got a proud record of service," he said.

"It's desperate."

Responding, Mr Mercer said: "I am guilty as charged for being a sad man who is rather old fashioned and thinks veterans who boast in newspapers about their record in combat in order to get elected should be held to account, particularly if it turns out to be untrue.

"It is deeply offensive and disrespectful to those who do actually shed blood for the nation."

General Election 2024

Mr Thomas said he had proudly served his country for seven years "including overseas on operations".

"I remain unable to discuss much of my service, something which Johnny Mercer - as a former defence minister - is keenly aware of," he said.

"I look forward to using every day until 4 July to take the message of Keir Starmer's changed Labour Party to the voters of Plymouth Moor View."

Mr Mercer first made the accusations at a hustings in Plymouth on Wednesday.

He said he did not dispute Mr Thomas's service in the Royal Marines or that he "indeed conducted one operational tour where he found himself in challenging environments - on the contrary I respect his service".

But he said serving in combat had "a special meaning and carries special responsibilities".

The Labour Party on Friday told the BBC Mr Thomas had been misreported in the Guardian article.

Mr Thomas cited his certificate of valediction which was signed by an unnamed commanding officer of the Special Forces Support Group.

The other candidates in Plymouth Moor View are Shaun Hooper for Reform UK, Sarah Martin for the Liberal Democrats and Georgia Nelson for the Green Party.

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