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Sarah Sands: Only the capture of Prince Harry could have done more damage

Faye Turney was not trained in resistance to interrogation

Faye Turney did not set out to be a symbol of the limits of female endeavour. Her job was the technical care of her small boat and she was a cheerful, professional member of the crew of HMS Cornwall. She was not trained in resistance to interrogation, and numbly followed the lunatic instructions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The divide between them and us was evident in her taut face, willing away the tears, and in the contradiction between the black hijab, and the cigarette she drew on. From the snapshot of 26-year-old Faye Turney through earlier interviews she spoke in a direct and understated way. It was an alien, emphatic, florid, invisible hand that directed Turney's schoolgirl writing to say: "The Iranian people are kind, considerate, warm, compassionate and very hospitable."

When the Revolutionary Guards captured British marines in 2004, they separated them and fired shots so the isolated captives believed the others were being murdered. Who knows what Faye Turney thought as the camera rolled. One instinct must have blocked out all others, the overwhelming wish of a mother to be with her child. Some have used this ghastly situation to make a general argument about women in the armed forces. Should a mother ever be separated from her children? Furthermore, does the plight of Turney not demonstrate that women are a dangerous weapon for enemy propaganda? Only the capture of Prince Harry could have done more damage than Faye Turney.

The case of the American woman soldier, Private Jessica Lynch, captured and rescued during the Iraq invasion in 2003, showed our anguish and confusion over the role of women in war. The first reports were of "an American female with blond hair who was very brave and fought against the enemy". Later, it was claimed that her weapon had jammed and she was helplessly captured. When Special Forces rescued her from an Iraqi hospital on a stretcher, there was general rejoicing. The story was subsequently revised again. Was the rescue staged to raise morale? Are women simply more trouble than they are worth?

The distinguished author Martin van Creveld, who wrote Men, Women and War, cast doubt on women's use in combat. Even the Amazons were said to be a marketing invention. It would be foolish to insist that women should be combat troops. They do not have the same strength and cannot carry the same weight. In all other areas they can perform brilliantly. Remember, it was a female cadet who beat Prince William to the sword of honour at Sandhurst.

The captured marines and sailors did not surrender because there was a woman present. They were following naval procedures. These are: de-escalate, maintain the status quo, take advantage but do not take the initiative. The crew were out-powered by four boats to two and by heavy weaponry to their own light rifles.

Faye Turney did not forsee any of this when she kissed her daughter goodbye. She is not reckless or negligent. I spent a night on the HMS Cornwall a month ago, heading towards Iraq from the Gulf of Aden. The crew were bright and purposeful. They said their job was to protect the oil flow and prevent weapons entering Iraq. The Navy is known as the "wet end" to the Army. When I told my Army friends I was spending a night with the Navy they jeered about the supply of gin and tonics and comfortable bunks. Now there are only prayers and sympathy, for both the men and the women.

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