Senior military staff yesterday condemned as ‘ridiculous’ the decision to sack the captain of the Royal Navy’s most powerful ship for misusing its official car.
Despite a glittering career, Nick Cooke-Priest was removed from the helm of HMS Queen Elizabeth when it emerged he had driven the Ford Galaxy on personal trips.
Under naval rules, the captain of the £3.1billion aircraft carrier was only allowed to use the vehicle for official duties, such as driving on bases.
Despite a glittering career, Nick Cooke-Priest was removed from the helm of HMS Queen Elizabeth when it emerged he had driven the Ford Galaxy on personal trips
While it remains unclear what trips he made, there are understood to be no accusations of fraud – and he also paid for his own fuel.
Commodore Cooke-Priest, who was in charge of a crew of around 700 on the warship which can hold up to 40 aircraft, was relieved of his duties earlier this week.
Major General Julian Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War, said: ‘This is a ridiculous overreaction.
‘A slap on the wrist would have been sufficient. It was a mistake and a silly thing to do.
‘I would have made a note on his report and docked him some seniority, which would mean he would not get promoted so quickly, if at all.’
He added: ‘We live in a different age than the one I served in. We were far more bothered about defeating the enemy than that.’
Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, said: ‘Nick Cooke-Priest is a very good officer and a highly competent and nice officer and I would be surprised if he has done anything dishonest.’
Under naval rules, the captain of the £3.1billion aircraft carrier was only allowed to use the vehicle for official duties, such as driving on bases
He added: ‘Clearly, if all he has done is just driven this car once or not abused it then it does seem like an overreaction. But without knowing the full details of what has happened it is very difficult to say.’
A retired navy officer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘It’s a classic case of trying too hard to do the right thing and so doing the wrong thing. Can’t believe they sacked him for that.’
Former British Army intelligence officer Philip Ingram said: ‘On the surface of it it seems completely over the top, an example of how the military put process not people first.’
Major General Julian Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War, said the sacking was a ‘ridiculous overreaction’. Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, said: ‘Nick Cooke-Priest is a very good officer and a highly competent and nice officer and I would be surprised if he has done anything dishonest’
Crew on the Queen Elizabeth – nicknamed Big Lizzie – are thought to have been told of the decision to move their captain to a new role earlier this week.
An investigation by the Navy found that Commodore Cooke-Priest made an ‘error of judgement’ by using the vehicle in his own capacity, according to The Sun.
A defence source insisted that the decision was ‘proportional and the correct thing to do’ because the captain of the warship needs to be seen by its crew as ‘whiter than white’.
‘He was using if for personal reasons so he had to be punished,’ they added.
A Ministry of Defence source said: ‘You have to be beyond reproach.
‘You cannot stand there and demand the highest standards if you don’t follow the rules yourself.’
In the past, ship captains were loaned vehicles by Jaguar Land Rover but the agreement with the British manufacturer ended and the Ford Galaxy used by the Queen Elizabeth captain was paid for by the MoD.
Commodore Cooke-Priest, a married father of three sons from Hampshire, had been in the position since October, describing the role as an ‘immense honour’.
The vessel, currently docked at Rosyth naval base in Scotland, is Britain’s largest ever warship, weighing 65,000 tonnes and boasting a 70-metre wide flight deck.
It will eventually have a crew of 1,600 at full complement. When commissioning the ship in 2017, the Queen said it embodied the ‘best of British’.
Commodore Cooke-Priest, pictured with Prince Charles, had been captain of HMS Elizabeth since October, describing the role as an ‘immense honour’
It is still unclear how Commodore Cooke-Priest will be punished, with the MoD refusing to comment on whether he is appealing against the decision.
But the incident is likely to effectively end his chances of further promotion.
The warship captain is the son of Colin Cooke-Priest, a former helicopter pilot whose distinguished naval career saw him promoted to rear admiral in 1989.
Mr Cooke-Priest, 80, was made extra gentleman usher to the Queen in 2009.
His son started his naval career in 1990, specialising as a Lynx helicopter observer before a decade of flying appointments.
He became a commander in 2009, escorting the Queen during her Western Isles royal tour on HMS Kent.
The ‘exceptional and popular captain’ was dismissed for allegedly driving the ship’s Ford Galaxy (similar to above) ‘as if it was his own’
Following his promotion to captain in 2014, Commodore Cooke-Priest led the UK’s response to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and received an OBE in 2016.
A Royal Navy spokesman said: ‘We can confirm Captain Nick Cooke-Priest has been reassigned to a new role.
‘We can only say that management action is ongoing and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment further.’