Britain’s government backtracks on letting freed sailors sell capture stories

Leading Seaman Faye Turney stands with her daughter Molly and husband Adam after being reunited April 5 at the Royal Marines Barracks in Chivenor, Devon, England. Turney, one of the British sailors detained by Iran for nearly two weeks, said she believed she was being measured for a coffin while she was in captivity, a newspaper reported Monday. The financial arrangements for Turney's story were not disclosed, but Turney said the amount she accepted was not the largest she had been offered.

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It was the British Ministry of Defense’s new policy for allowing marines and sailors freed by Iran last week to sell their stories about their captivity to the media. But the change in long-standing rules against paid interviews lasted barely a day.

The government beat a hasty retreat Monday under withering criticism that the fees, reportedly as high as six figures, were unseemly and a slap at families of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The appearance of the first paid interviews also brought new criticism that the 15 crew members yielded too easily to Iranian pressure to make confessions and apologies. Some worried the crew’s actions revealed a loss of Britain’s famed “stiff upper lip” in tough times.

“The sailors and marines held in Iran have been so compliant and have already said so much that they have caused excruciating embarrassment to many people in this country,” a retired colonel, Bob Stewart, wrote in The Times newspaper.

Defense Secretary Des Browne said that pending completion of a review of the regulations governing paid interviews, announced earlier in the day, all service personnel were now barred from accepting fees for talking about their military experiences.

The announcement does not affect any of the freed crew members who already accepted fees for talking to journalists but bars them and all other service members from making new deals with media outlets, the Defense Ministry said. Two such interviews appeared Monday, but it was unknown if others had already sold their stories.

Browne acknowledged “many strong views” had been expressed against the idea of military personnel taking cash to give exclusive stories to the media. Such fees are a long media practice in Britain, though more usually for stories involving sexual capers and lurid crimes.

The first paid interviews appeared Monday in The Sun and the Daily Mirror newspapers, with The Sun bagging the most sought-after sailor, Faye Turney, the only woman among the captives. Financial terms were not disclosed, but other media reported the amount paid was in the six figures.