The head of the Armed Forces has expressed his disquiet over the Royal Navy’s decision to remove from post the commanding officer of Britain’s most powerful aircraft carrier, the Telegraph understands.
General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, is said to be "concerned" over the treatment of Commodore Nick Cooke-Priest amid claims he misused an official car at weekends.
Cdre Cooke-Priest was ignominiously stripped of his command of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the fleet’s newest aircraft carrier, over an allegation that he drove the ship’s Ford Galaxy in his spare time "like it was his own’"
The decision to "reassign" the commodore to another role has sparked misgivings at the very top of the Armed Forces, it is understood with Sir Nick expressing reservations over the handling of the complaint against Cdre Cooke-Priest.
It is understood the head of the Armed Forces has raised concerns over whether the allegations were properly investigated and whether Cdre Cooke-Priest was provided with proper representation.
There is also a worry that the commodore with a previously unblemished record has been punished too severely for such a minor alleged misdemeanour.
“Sir Nick was very surprised when he heard that the Navy was taking such precipitate action against a senior officer with such a distinguished track record,” a senior Whitehall source told The Telegraph.
“There is concern that the allegations against Cdre Cooke-Priest have not been properly investigated.”
The decision to ‘reassign’ Cdre Cooke-Priest would have required the approval of the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones.
Senior military officers in other services who have worked with Cdre Cooke-Priest have also spoken of their surprise that such a well-regarded officer, who has held a number of important command roles, should have been treated in this manner over allegations of a relatively minor infringement.
“There is a view in other parts of the military that this is a complete over-reaction on the part of the Navy,” a senior officer told the Telegraph.
“There are a number of concerns that this matter has not been properly investigated, and that Cooke-Priest was not given a proper opportunity to respond to the allegations against him.”
The Navy is now under pressure to conduct a full investigation into its handling of the case.
The Telegraph disclosed further embarrassment for the Navy yesterday when it emerged that Cdre Cooke-Priest had had to be recalled to take temporary charge of the ship.
Naval chiefs realised there was no one available to take the helm in bringing the £3billion ship back to her home on the south coast.
A family friend of the 50-year-old commodore said he had been “flown to Rosyth to sail the ship back to Portsmouth”. Cdre Cooke-Priest, who joined the Navy in 1990, had been in charge of HMS Queen Elizabeth since October.
It is understood he was found to have been guilty of an “error of judgment” in using the Ford galaxy for private journeys although he had paid for the petrol himself and there is no allegation of fraud.
Cdre Cooke-Priest will be replaced on may 28 by Captain Steve Moorhouse, the current commanding officer of HMS Prince of Wales, a second aircraft carrier due for commissioning in 2020.
Penny Mordaunt, the Defence Secretary, said she understood the ‘concern when we have invested in an individual and they are not able to carry out the tasks for which he was trained”.
But Ms Mordaunt insisted the matter was “for the Royal Navy to deal with”.