It was the expat military life she had always dreamed of. Kate Howe had a grand colonial home in Kenya, a healthy little boy and a loving husband who was proudly serving as a captain in the British Army, an institution she had come to regard as a second family.
But today, her view of the military couldn’t be more different – as Kate holds the Army responsible for the death of her longed-for baby daughter.
Kate, 40, was living in Kenya, where her husband was stationed, when she became pregnant with her second child.
But when she suffered complications that led to her being advised by doctors to rest and not to fly, the Army – perhaps concerned about legal action – ordered her and her family to move back to Britain within 48 hours.
The stress of the move resulted, the Howes believe, in Kate miscarrying their daughter at 22 weeks. ‘The Army has blood on its hands, but it just marched away, closed ranks and washed its hands of us,’ she says.
Now, after a five-year battle for answers, the Army has finally issued ‘an unreserved apology’ for its part in the ‘terrible tragedy’ in a landmark judgment that concedes the loyal officer’s wife from Wiltshire had been ‘unfairly treated’ and ‘wronged’.
In her first interview, Kate, who is considering suing the Army for damages, can finally speak freely about the pain she endured. And in a highly unusual step, which only serves to highlight the severity of the situation, her husband David, now a major, is risking his career by speaking out about the ‘guilt’ he feels over the Army’s appalling errors that left his peaceful family life in tatters.
For his wife, too, there can be no doubt as to where the blame lies. ‘Ultimately, I feel the Army is responsible for the death of our daughter,’ says Kate, a trainee children’s swimming teacher.
‘Without their interference I honestly believe I would have a healthy daughter. Now, I can hold friends’ baby girls and can walk through the girls’ clothing department in shops. I’m managing with that. But what I’m not managing is the anger and hurt I feel at the way we’ve been treated.’
For David, 38, speaking out against the Army is not only a breach of military protocol but an emotional torment that throws his career into doubt.
‘The Army have been the closest thing I’ve had to a family,’ David says. ‘I joined when I was 21 and have served for 17 years. At the weekend I didn’t go home to see my parents, I stayed with the Army. This was the first time I’ve called on them and they have let me down. Even as a captain, I wasn’t treated like a human being. I have felt guilty and embarrassed for being in the Army – this wouldn’t be happening to Kate if I wasn’t.’
The couple, who met at a friend’s barbecue in 2004, married in 2006 and had their first child, a son, in 2008, had considered having a second baby in Kenya when David was posted to Nanyuki, 90 miles north of Nairobi, in 2010.
When Kate became pregnant in April 2011, the couple expected that Army policy would dictate that she gave birth in the UK.
But no such policy existed and the couple were given conflicting advice. They decided to stay in Kenya after reading in the official British Army Training Unit Kenya (Batuk) guide that pregnancy would not be a problem in the country.
Things progressed normally until that June when, at 13 weeks pregnant, Kate had a light bleed and was airlifted to Nairobi hospital. She was advised to rest by Kenyan practitioner Dr Dhadialla – and advised not to fly by the Army.
At nearly five months, Kate had another bleed.
Dr John Ross, a civilian medic who was employed by the Army, was concerned about miscarriage but had failed to order a foetal heart monitor, leaving Kate in anguish over whether her baby was alive or dead. Once she was in hospital, doctors discovered that Kate had not miscarried and her unborn child was still alive. Kate was again prescribed bed rest.
But the Army medics wondered whether Kate should return to the UK. ‘The doctors started offering terrifying reasons for us to return, telling me I could haemorrhage and die and that I could contract HIV from a blood transfusion if I stayed in Kenya,’ Kate says. ‘Why hadn’t this been raised in the beginning? A month previously I understood I had been signed off as unfit to fly and now they were telling me to get on an eight-hour flight to the UK. I started to feel as though we were a problem that the Army needed to go away.’
A list of worst-case scenarios was also presented to the couple in a formal meeting. ‘It was a list of horror,’ Kate says. ‘Bearing in mind this wasn’t my first pregnancy, I really didn’t think I was high-risk. We felt it was scaremongering. They ignored the real medical problem of me being so stressed and anxious over it all. They kept insisting that stress had no bearing on pregnancy.
‘My stress levels went from nothing to a million. It was clear the Army was putting its interests ahead of ours. We didn’t feel as though our needs as a family or that of the baby mattered.’
The following day a senior staff officer confirmed the couple’s worst fears – that the Army was motivated by the thought of a lawsuit more than the wellbeing of one of its serving soldier’s wives.
‘The officer said my risk was high, but the risk to the Army was higher,’ Kate says. ‘It seemed obvious that he was talking about litigation.’
He later told David that the family needed to leave for Nairobi within 48 hours, where arrangements would be made for a return to the UK. ‘It was an order,’ David says, sadly. ‘Kate was like a ticking time bomb to them.’
Kate adds: ‘They expected us to just pack a bag and leave, but I had to sell my car and get rid of our son’s pet rabbit, three tortoises and chickens. We had to uproot an entire life at 21 weeks pregnant.
After begging for more time, the couple were given two extra days. Their flight back to the UK was scheduled for August 25.
But on the day of the flight, Kate had a third bleed and was admitted to hospital.
Later, Kate’s waters broke and, after a gruelling 12-hour labour, she gave birth to a lifeless child. They named the little girl Harriet.
‘I remember the nurse holding up this tiny, fully formed little girl to me,’ she said. I touched her forehead and said goodbye.’
The baby’s body was put into a plastic orange waste bag and placed on a metal trolley within Kate’s eye line. The couple later discovered the bag had been dumped in hospital waste.
‘I had trouble looking at orange bags for a long time after,’ Kate says blinking back tears.
‘It was devastating.’
A few days after, Kate received a short text message from Dr Ross to say he was sorry for the couple’s loss.
‘We were totally on our own. On two occasions, Dr Dhadialla said that, in his opinion, had the Army not interfered I would have gone on to have a full-term pregnancy.
‘The thought of that will haunt me until the day I die.’
Their lives shattered, the family finally moved into quarters in Warminster, Wiltshire, in October 2011, but Kate was low. Today her loss is still raw and the bitter irony is that as a result of the horrific events, Kate has battled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a condition usually associated with military veterans rather than their wives.
Furthermore, Kate found that she was not party to the formal service complaint they had issued in the November after the miscarriage. ‘The Army questioned whether it should have been logged as a service complaint at all because it concerned me rather than David.
‘And when I phoned to enquire how it was progressing, I was told it had nothing to do with me. Every piece of correspondence was addressed to Captain Howe, as he then was, rather than to both of us. David was offered mediation but I wasn’t.
‘I felt very much like I was being told to “just stay indoors, darling, and put the dinner on. It’s nothing for you to worry about”.’
And while the Army may pride itself on core values of loyalty, integrity and respect for others, the Howes discovered their experience reveals a disturbing reality: that the Army and, more significantly, military procedure, comes first and the family second and not just in times of war, but in every aspect of military life.
Last month the Army finally apologised unreservedly for mistakes made and admitted the ‘support provided to the family was not of the standard it should have been’ and ‘lacked compassion’.
The apology was not delivered in person, but sent through the post, buried within a formal judgment. To date, the Army has not been in touch in person about the incident.
The Army would probably say this was a series of unfortunate events. Indeed, it is its belief that Kate would have miscarried anyway.
But David and Kate do not agree. An experienced mother of one at that time, Kate had similar problems in her third pregnancy in the UK but, after a simple prescription of bed rest, delivered a healthy second son in 2012.
Kate tearfully reveals how she is considering suing the Army and warns that other ‘dependants’ like her are made to feel second-class citizens by the military.
She is aware that many will say she must have known what the life of an Army wife would entail. But this, she says, misses the point.
‘Military wives fly the flag just as much as their husbands do. We’re expected to behave in a certain way. The sergeants’ mess is even more formal than the officers’.
‘Your dress has to be a certain length and you have to be seen doing the right thing. God forbid you ever took shop-bought cakes to a function or had a job.
‘These are unspoken rules but there’s a real pressure to be an amazing mummy, wife and culinary expert who puts on the best dinner parties. It’s very old-fashioned. I gave up my job and did everything David asked me to do for his career. But despite this, dependants don’t get any respect. We are treated like second-class citizens.
‘The Army always says a happy wife makes a happy soldier, but it needs to have more regard for the families of its personnel. It’s still the Army first and family second.’
A month before the publication of a newspaper report in May 2014 about the investigation, Dr Ross sent a handwritten note to the couple saying how very sorry he was for their loss.
He added that he had ‘reflected deeply and long on my actions in 2011 and pray you and your family can find some solace in this’.
But his remarks, and the Army’s eventual apology last month, are of little comfort. ‘They haven’t answered our questions,’ Kate says. ‘There was no phone call or visit to apologise. It was so impersonal.’
The couple have taken their complaint to the Service Complaints Ombudsman and are considering suing the Army for compensation, but admit that all they really want now is to be properly heard. ‘We’re not supposed to talk badly about the Army and I’m scared about speaking out now, but I need to have a voice in this,’ says Kate.
‘I’m screaming for the Army to listen and take this seriously. I want it to listen to how this has affected my family.
‘Anyone can fire off an apology and, for me, the Army’s is worthless because it is faceless. As far as we know, there is still no policy in place for pregnancy in Kenya.
‘The thought of this happening to another family fills me with dread.’
An Army spokesman said: ‘While we cannot comment on individual cases, we can be clear that soldiers and their families continue to receive outstanding medical care both in the UK and when deployed overseas.
‘As this case could be subject to further action, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.’
*This story was first published by Dailymail