April 23, 2010
Woman feels betrayed by British newspaper

When Spring Village resident Sonia Debique opened her home and heart to British journalist Dan Newling, she thought she was about to help her sister’s cause.{{more}}

But instead, the reporter who traveled from the United Kingdom last week for an exclusive about former British soldier Tilern Debique, painted a different picture of the single mother who won a landmark case against the British Ministry of Defence.

Far from the requested £1.1 million, Debique was awarded £17,016 by an employment tribunal who agreed that she was racially and sexually discriminated against, but ruled that she should have accepted a job at a family friendly base that offered child care facilities.

In an article written by Newling and Kathryn Knight and published on April 16, 2010, in The Daily Mail, captioned “Single Mother soldier Who Claimed £1.1m Over Childcare Left Her Baby For Two Years”, Newling described the farming community of Spring Village as a ‘poverty stricken’ one to which DeBique would have returned to “in triumph as a rich woman”.

The article stated: “… The Daily Mail has discovered that while portraying herself as a devoted single mother, she has in fact spent nearly two years apart from her daughter after dispatching her to the Caribbean to live with her sister,” and that “Ironic as it might seem, Miss DeBique has a favoured Latin Motto (Per Ardua ad Alta – through difficulties to the heights) from her high school days (Girls’ High School) which she likes to quote in times of difficulty.”

The article went on to give details on Tilern’s early life, including her growing up in a ‘tiny wooden two room shack’, as well as information recovered from her Myspace account, which had not been used since 2006.

Other articles published in the paper, as well as comments by its readers, did not speak well of DeBique or Commonwealth nationals serving in the British military.

When SEARCHLIGHT spoke to Tilern’s eldest sister Sonia on the phone, she indicated that she was attempting to do damage control when she spoke to Newling and set the record straight for her sister.

She indicated that she felt betrayed by the way her sister, the family and this country was portrayed in the article.

“I felt betrayed. I tried to explain (to Newling) that my sister was not a money grabbing woman,” Sonia explained. “When Tilly went into this, she was not doing it for, nor expecting any money.”

“The interest about money was more by other people than by us.”

The elder DeBique, a former teacher, indicated that her sister enlisted in the army because she was a disciplilned young woman who saw a career opportunity in the military.

She said that it was her sister’s intention to serve her full term; which would have taken her to age 40, if the matter had not gone the way it did.

Sonia is of the opinion that most Britons, including Newling, believe that Commonwealth soldiers are just enlisting in the British Armed Forces so that they can receive a British passport after four to five years.

After this, they remain in England or migrate to the United States.

“It is sad that this actually happens, but the truth is that most persons go there because they want to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

Sonia was also expressed displeasure in statements made by local Minister of Foreign Affairs Sir Louis Straker, who in a radio interview this week said that Tilern’s action could have serious consequences for the recruitment of Vincentians and other Commonwealth countries.

“I feel that it is going to have some repercussions on us here in St. Vincent…. We may have a price to pay for what the court has decided, and the price is the lessening of opportunities for our people… and it might very well be to the detriment of our country and our young people,” the Minister said.

“Although I was told that options were given to Miss DeBique, she refused it and she went the way of the court.”

The Minister noted that this country has the second largest contingent of soldiers in the United Kingdom after Ghana, with approximately 800 Vincentians serving in the army, navy and marines.

In response to this, Sonia questioned the silence of the public when Vincentian officers were imprisoned for embezzling money from the British Navy some time ago.

“How come nobody said anything about that?” she inquired. “How come that this not standing in the way of others?”

She acknowledged that her sister had been offered employment at a diierent base, but because this was done following her resignation from the army, she did not feel comfortable taking up the post for safety reasons.

Sonia maintains that the quantity of money requested is what has brought international attention to her sister, and said that persons are not looking at the principle behind her sister’s actions and the fact the British authorities agreed with her.

“There are things that happen in the military that people don’t know,” she added.

“They (readers of The Daily Mail and others) say that the British military is scraping the bottom of the barrel by recruiting soldiers from the Commonwealth; but I say that we are risking our lives to do the jobs that their own people refuse to do.”

Concerning Newling and his article, Sonia insisted that she is not upset with the reporter, but blames herself for giving the information to him.

“He just lied in a nice way, but I am not mad at him.”

“I am not ashamed to say we grew up poor, but we were not here sitting waiting for the money to come down.”

“My big thing is that my sister grew up poor and she won a case in London against the Ministry of Defence.”