After losing three limbs fighting for his country, Matthew Weston might
have expected to be treated with respect by the British public.
But the 20-year-old - who is one of the most seriously injured
soldiers to survive since Britain began fighting in Afghanistan in 2001
- has instead had to endure cruel taunts in the street. Yesterday his family were joined by politicians in condemning the cowards who insulted him.
Sapper Weston, of 33 Engineer Regiment, was first taunted by a
callous teenager as he was being pushed in a wheelchair by his mother
and girlfriend Bryony Bolland on an outing from hospital.
shouted: 'Haven't you forgotten something? Oh yeah, your legs.' Weeks later, as he was waiting to be served in a fish and chip
shop, another lout sneered: 'If you didn't want to be blown up don't go
to war.' The incidents both happened in Birmingham, where he was being
treated at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, Selly Oak Hospital. His mother Rena Weston, 40, an operating theatre nurse, said:
'Injured soldiers are a common sight round there. To taunt anyone in a
wheelchair is a terrible thing to do, but to do it to a soldier is
These men are heroes. They put their lives on the line to defend
their country and it's shocking that there are people who repay their
bravery with comments like this. They are mindless idiots.
'I didn't know what to do when they shouted the legs insult. I choked back the tears before pushing Matthew away and could hear them laughing.
'I was mortified. The most heartbreaking thing was when Matthew turned to me and said, "I guess I'd better get used to it".
'Why should he have to? He's out fighting and risking his life
for this country and this is how he is treated when he comes back. It's
Miss Bolland, 18, said: 'We were horrified that people can be so ignorant. It's very sad.'
Their comments were echoed yesterday by Defence Minister Kevan
Jones, who said: 'I'm disgusted. People who do this should be ashamed
of insulting a hero like Matthew.Matthew fourth left.
Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox added: 'Attacks of this kind on
our injured veterans are despicable. They deserve respect and
admiration from every single person in the UK.'
Sapper Weston, who joined the Army at 17, was halfway through his first tour
of duty in Afghanistan when he lost both legs and his right arm to a
Taliban bomb during a foot patrol.
As part of Operation Panther's Claw - the battle to drive the
Taliban from a key area in Helmand province - he was using a metal
detector to clear mines ahead of an infantry patrol in the Sangin
region on June 29. He was blown into the air as he stepped on a mine that had
been placed behind a metal door, where it would not be discovered by
his metal detector. He suffered horrific injuries and was flown back to Britain where surgeons told his family to fear the worst.
But he survived and was nearing the end of 11 weeks of treatment at Selly Oak when he was insulted in the street.
He still has hearing problems and is now being rehabilitated at Headley Court, Surrey.
But Sapper Weston, who will next week be fitted with prosthetic legs, refuses to be cowed by his tormentors.
He said: 'I didn't expect to get abuse like that. I've
encountered worse things in my life, though, and I'm not going to let
it get in the way of my rehab or my future.'
Mrs Weston, who lives in Taunton, Somerset, said: 'What I'd
say to the morons who insulted Matt is, If you don't like what you see,
walk on. Don't hurl abuse at him.
'He is very strong. Soon after he came round in critical care
he said, "I'm not going to die - I'm not going to let those bastards
get another one of us. I'm going to fight back".
'That sort of courage and determination should be an inspiration to everyone.
'Matthew plans to return to the Army next year and is even hoping to be considered for the Paralympic shooting team.'
Sapper Weston is not the first soldier to face abuse from the very people he risks his life to defend.
Troops returning from Afghanistan have been told to change into
civilian clothes before landing at Birmingham Airport, while in
Peterborough, RAF personnel were banned from wearing uniform in town
because of the verbal abuse they received.
And in March, Muslim protesters waved offensive placards
bearing slogans such as 'Butchers of Basra' as members of the 2nd
Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment marched through Luton.