Encouraged by the British Ministry of Defene, the 15 started selling their personal stories in which they vividly described the “horrors” of their captivity. It appeared, contrary to the footage aired by the Iranian television, that they were stripped, blindfolded, taunted and “psychologically pressured” in other ways.
Leading Seaman Faye Turney, the top “star” of the British-Iranian PR-war, shocked the awed public by telling how the wicked Iranians stripped her and measured "from head to toe" with a tape in order to make her coffin. She then heard sawing and hammering near her cell, which they, of course did deliberately to intimidate her.
Moreover, the 15 “heroes” said in their interviews that they never apologized publicly for illegally entering Iranian territorial waters, and all the videotaped statements and letters were written and made under pressure. They called the repeatedly aired Iranian TV footage showing them smiling and apparently well-fed a PR trick. Even some British media sounded rather ironic about it saying that the 15 sailors and marines must have been good actors for their Iranian stage-managers.
The British Ministry of Defense gave the ex-captives a go-ahead to accept money for the multiple interviews with the news media in a bid to make a score and get “the truth” across to the British public. This unprecedented decision immediately backfired bringing a landslide of criticism on the military command from the general public and families of British soldiers who have been killed while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some reports said the British servicemen who have been held captive in Iran could have received a total of £250,000 (almost $500,000) for their interviews. The biggest fee was paid to Faye Turney who earned £150,000 for selling her story to the television network ITV1 and one o the British papers. The ex-captives even plan to put up for online auction the souvenirs given to them by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to reports.
These reports triggered an even harsher public reaction. Craig Murray, a former head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's maritime section said it was an odd way to encourage troops by giving them a chance to earn amounts equal to several years’ allowance for being captured instead of doing their job correctly – that is, without getting into the enemy’s hands.
Mike Aston, whose son was in Iraq in June 2003, said he was "absolutely amazed" by the Ministry of Defense's decision. He added: "I really think this whole thing has been shameful and this just compounds it by going for the money." Rose Gentle, whose son was killed in Basra in June 2004, told the Sunday Times: "This is wrong and I don't think it should be allowed.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Cordingly said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview he was “depressed” by the MoD’s decision to allow the HMS Cornwall crew to sell their stories, in which they obviously overplayed their unpleasant experience. Colonel Bob Stewart, former first British UN Commander in Bosnia, said that the idea made him "sick" and he was "appalled" the captives had been encouraged to profit from what he termed a "military disaster." Some of the ex-captives acted “like reality TV stars,” he believed.
After this howl of outrage the British Ministry of Defense had nothing left to do but to reverse its course and ban the sailors from selling stories. Defense Secretary Des Browne announced a "review of the regulations" concerning payment for stories. He said the Royal Navy officials who had authorized paid interviews should have controlled the process further.
The only exception was made for Faye Turney who was allowed to keep the money. However, Turney and her colleagues were swift to announce they had been planning to give the bulk of the money to charity anyway.
Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Adrian Johns said the decision to allow the sale of stories was made because of the barrage of criticism of the crew members’ behavior in captivity. "We thought it was very important indeed to let these people tell the story in their own words and through the media," he said.
Observers say the whole thing inflicted a serious damage to the British armed forces’ reputation, which would be difficult to remedy. The military officials’ competence and the troops’ morale are widely questioned by the public now.
How could it have happened that frigate HMS Cornwall, fitted out with state-of-the-art radars and electronic tracking tools, failed to spot the Iranian boats and help the crew sent to inspect a merchant vessel? Why have the sailors and marines, elite members of the armed forces, folded so quickly under pressure from their captors? They cooperated eagerly, some of them even confessing to have “cried like a baby” and trembled with terror because placed in separate cells.
In Britain, many now ask why, instead of investigating the emergency properly and punishing those responsible for it, the generals and admirals preferred to engage in a useless PR-war with Iran? Why have they allowed their personnel, who had given themselves in without even trying to resist, to sell the stories of their “ordeals”?
In any case, the unsavory incident turned a page of disgrace in the British history and brought discredit on its armed forces.