Traitor in the camp

My military man's past was a minefield...

Published by: Amy Thompson
Published on: 12th May 2011

Bouncers, they’re big burly guys with no-nonsense attitudes and not much to
say, right?
Well, as manager of a bar, that’s what I thought. But chatting to Pete, 29, I was changing my mind, rapidly! There was more to him than his muscles.
‘So you were a Green Beret for nine years?’ I asked, elbows propped on the bar.
‘Yeah,’ he smiled. ‘I served in Afghanistan for a while.’
‘Is that why you got the tattoo?’ I nodded to the name Emma inked on his hand. ‘Is it something to remember a girlfriend by?’
‘Oh, no,’ he smiled sadly. ‘Emma was my twin. She died just before our 21st.’
‘Oh,’ I gasped. ‘I’m really sorry.’
‘It’s okay,’ he shrugged. ‘It was a long time ago.’
Who’d have thought under that macho exterior he was so sweet? And a good listener, too, I discovered.
As the months rolled on, we were always chatting after closing time. So, when he dashed past me one night, mobile clutched to his ear looking worried, I raced after him.
‘Everything okay?’ I said, seeing tears in his eyes.
‘That was my brother Michael,’ he croaked. ‘My sister Shannon’s collapsed and been rushed to hospital, I’ve got to go.’
Poor Pete. He’d already lost one sister, surely Shannon would be okay? She was only 16.
Next day, he phoned me in bits. ‘Doctors said it was heart failure,’ he sobbed. ‘She died when I got there.’
I couldn’t believe such a nice guy could have such horrible things happen to him. Life could be so cruel.
‘Look, if you want to talk, I’m here,’ I said.
He did just that… and our friendship quickly grew into something more. So, when Pete’s mum and sister Jade, 19, emigrated to Australia two months after Shannon’s funeral, I suggested he move in with me.
If Pete’s family couldn’t be there for him, I would. He was so sincere, genuine and trustworthy, I’d met my perfect man. So perfect that when he presented me with an emerald-cut diamond ring and proposed just five months later, I didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
Everything was slotting into place. Until a few months later…
Pete had given up working as a bouncer because he couldn’t afford to renew his security licence. Instead, he was helping an electrician friend. For about a month he did well, then work dried up. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said sheepishly. ‘I’ll get another job as soon as I can.’
‘It’s fine,’ I reassured him. ‘I can cover the bills for a month or so.’
It was the least I could do after what he’d been through.
And I knew Pete wasn’t a layabout. You can’t be a Royal Marine and be lazy, he had a real hardworking attitude. Except… when a month of me paying bills turned into six, my dad Paul, 52, and sister Alex, 28, grew concerned.
‘I don’t like it,’ Dad sighed. ‘Pete’s a nice guy, but he should be paying his way.’
‘He needs a job,’ agreed Alex.
‘Well, he’s trying,’ I insisted. ‘Jobs are hard to find right now, and he can’t go back to the Marines – he lost friends in Afghanistan.’
Dad just looked at me.
‘After what he’s been through, surely you could cut him some slack?’ I added. ‘You saw what Pete was like on Remembrance Sunday.’ He nodded, looking ashamed. He’d been with us that day, paying his respects. He’d seen Pete crying over fallen comrades, dressed in his uniform.
‘Okay,’ he sighed.
Yet, as time wore on and Pete still hadn’t found work, it began to grate on me, too. I was happy supporting him while he found his feet, but couldn’t do it forever.
‘We need to talk,’ I told him a year into our relationship. ‘I can’t afford to support us both on my salary. You need to find work.’
‘What do you want me to do?’ he shot back. ‘Go back to Afghanistan, maybe never come back?’
‘No,’ I gasped, shocked.
We’d always been so honest
with each other, why was he reacting like this?
‘Look, I know it’s hard…’ I started but, suddenly, Pete’s face crumbled, tears started tumbling down his cheeks.
‘Oh God, what’s wrong?’ I worried. ‘It-it’s my mum,’ he sobbed. ‘I was going to tell you when you got in, but…’
‘What?’ I panicked.
‘I got a call this morning,’ he took a deep breath.
‘Sh-she took an overdose. She couldn’t cope after Shannon died and now she’s gone, too.’
‘Oh, Pete,’ I said, hugging him.
‘Jade isn’t old enough to sign the release forms for Mum’s body. And I don’t have the money to fly out there… we can’t even bury her!’ he wailed.
‘And then I start talking about money,’ I sighed, feeling awful.
‘It’s not your fault,’ he added, wiping his eyes.
Poor Pete. Not only had he fought for his country, he’d lost two sisters and now his mum.
Looking down at my engagement ring, I knew one thing – he’d always have me. ‘We’ll sort this,’ I promised.
And we did. Dad stumped up £1,700 for Pete’s flight to Australia. ‘I’ll pay you back,’
Pete said gratefully.
‘Don’t worry about that now,’ Dad said, patting him on the back.
Dropping Pete at the airport, I gave him a hug. ‘Love you,’ he said, nuzzling into my neck. God, I was going to miss him.
After a few days, I decided to email him to see how he was getting on. Poor bloke would be in bits, sorting his mum’s funeral.
But when I got on the internet, I saw our computer history that Facebook had been logged into recently.
I rarely used it and Pete didn’t have an account, so that was weird.
Curiosity getting the better of me, I tried logging on with Pete’s email address and the password he’d set up on our joint account… A Facebook page appeared all right. I reeled in shock as I read my grieving fella’s status. Loving Bondi beach!
‘The beach?!’ I frowned.
But he was supposed to be supporting his sister as they mourned, arranging his mum’s funeral, not enjoying the beach!
And why lie about not having a Facebook account?
Determined to get answers, I called his mobile. ‘You told me you didn’t have a Facebook page,’ I said slowly. ‘But I’m sat here looking at it, and you’re bragging about Bondi Beach when your mum’s just died!’
There was silence for a minute… then he exploded.
‘I can’t believe you spied on me!’ he spat.
‘I’ve just started using Facebook. Mum’s being cremated in a few days, and I needed a break. Or would you rather that I be miserable?’
‘I… well…’ I spluttered, feeling guilty for not trusting him. Of course he’d need time to relax.
He had to try and keep Jade’s spirits up, too.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said meekly, feeling foolish.
A week later he was home, but things were still tense between us.
Worse, the tension grew because, as time went on, I knew Dad was worrying about the money Pete owed him.
‘Any luck on the job front?’ I asked innocently one evening.
‘Money, money, money,’ Pete spluttered. ‘That’s all you think about. Fine, I’ll sign up with the Royal Marines again.’
With that, he stormed out. I couldn’t believe how he was reacting! I was even more surprised the next day, though – he told me he’d signed up again with his old regiment.
‘I’m going back out to Afghanistan,’ he added.
‘B-but…’ I was speechless.
Was this the end of our relationship? We’d had our arguments, but I loved Pete, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.
‘Look,’ he sighed. ‘I overreacted the other day, but this means we’ll have money. Besides, it’ll do me good.’
‘But what about us?’ I croaked.
‘I need to get my head sorted,’ he said gently. ‘Time apart will help. Look, I love you, never forget that.’ But a couple of days after he’d left for training, and I hadn’t been able to get in touch with him, I started to worry. Was he ignoring my calls, preparing to dump me?
When my phone rang the next day, I jumped to answer it. But it wasn’t Pete… it was my sister Alex. ‘I’ve got some bad news,’ she started to say. ‘It’s Pete.’
Oh God! Had he been shot? But why would they contact Alex about him? I didn’t have time to ask…
‘He text one of my mates earlier, asking if she wanted to meet up,’ she said.
‘You… what?’ I frowned. ‘That’s ridiculous, he’s in Afghani…’ I trailed off as something dawned on me.
‘I’ve got to go,’ I said, hanging up. Since Pete lost his job, I’d been paying his phone bill.
His mobile was in my name, so I called his network provider to find out when and where his phone had last been used.
‘A call was made this morning,’ the operator said. ‘From Southport.’
Southport?! I’d flipping kill him!
Racing into our bedroom, I rifled through his paperwork. Bills, birth certificate, and discharge papers. They might have a number I could call and…
Suddenly, I felt sick. The papers said Pete had been a fuel operator in the Royal Logistics for four years, not a Green Beret. And he’d never toured Afghanistan.
What the hell? He’d lied!
Then something else caught my eye. The jewellery box where I kept the Rolex my dad had bought me for my 16th birthday was open – and empty! But I only wore it on special occasions. Hunting about, I couldn’t find it anywhere.
Maybe Pete had moved it. And maybe there was a reasonable explanation for his army papers being unclear. I had to get hold of him, get to the bottom of this.
Every time I tried his mobile, though, he didn’t answer.
The following day, I told Dad everything. ‘I don’t know if he’s lied to me, stolen my watch or what,’ I sobbed.
‘Go to the police,’ he insisted.
‘Dad, I’m not sure,’ I started.
‘It’s the only way to find out the truth,’ he said gently.
And what an ugly truth it turned out to be…
The police tracked down my watch – to a Liverpool jeweller’s.
‘The watch was sold this morning by a woman – Pete’s mum,’ an officer said.
‘She’s dead,’ I insisted.
He shook his head.
‘She’s alive and had no idea she was selling your watch,’ he explained. ‘Pete told her it belonged to a mate of his.’
The room spun as everything began to slot into place.
My fiancé wasn’t a war hero… his mother wasn’t dead… he’d stolen from me.
‘What about his sisters?’ I asked. ‘Emma, Shannon and Jade?’
‘He has two sisters,’ the officer said gently. ‘But they’re alive. Emma is an ex.’
How could anyone be sick enough to lie about their family dying? And his tattoo was of an ex-girlfriend?!
To add insult to injury, the engagement ring Pete had given me was fake, too – worth £15!
I was left reeling.
For the last 18 months, I’d lived a lie.
While I’d poured my heart out to Pete and fallen in love, everything that had ever come out of his mouth had been untrue.
‘Let me get this straight,’ I said. ‘None of Pete’s family are dead, he never fought for his country, just filled up tanks with petrol – and he had a free, £1,700 holiday on my dad?’
The officer shuffled his feet, embarrassed, and nodded.
‘Right, well I’m pressing charges,’ I snapped.
Police arrested Pete four months later. I never even got the chance to confront him.
In March, at Blackburn Magistrates Court, Peter Wall pleaded guilty to theft and making a fraudulent representation to gain a holiday to Australia.
In his defence, his lawyer said he’d been finding it hard to adjust to civilian life after coming out of the army. He’s still awaiting sentencing.
Pete didn’t seem like your average bouncer. There was certainly nothing average about the gigantic lies he told.
They say that love is a battlefield, but I never imagined falling for a guy could backfire in such a horrible way.
Charlotte Chapman, 23, West Bradford, Clitheroe