'That's when my war started': The British veteran left homeless after returning from Afghanistan war

Laurie Spencer tells ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies that his "war started" when he was told to leave Afghanistan and struggled to access support

In 2006, the soldiers of C Company, 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, posed for a photo at their base in Sangin in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. At that time, Sangin was the most dangerous place on earth, the centre of British forces' fight against the Taliban. The Paras were sent to Helmand Province after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, a response to the September 11 terror attacks in the United States. The campaign lasted 20 years and cost the lives of 457 British soldiers. ITV News has tried to trace the people on the C Company photograph 15 years on to tell their stories, in our series Afghanistan: Photo From The Frontline.

By ITV News Senior News Editor Paul Tyson

When Laurie Spencer joined the army, he found more than just a job. He found a sense of purpose, a place to belong, a place where he was valued.

The Parachute Regiment, he says, was his family.

After a fight in the Garrison town of Colchester, Laurie was arrested and charged. But when his unit, 3 Para, were deployed to the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in the summer of 2006, he was allowed to fly out with them.

Within weeks he found himself in the town of Sangin at the centre of an intense life or death struggle with the Taliban.

The Paras’ base in the town was effectively under siege, so when Laurie was shot in the hand, his commanders could not risk calling in a helicopter for his comparatively minor injury. So he fought on, even as his wound became infected.

Back in Colchester, Laurie was given a suspended prison sentence for the fight he had been involved in prior to his deployment to Afghanistan. The army then gave him two weeks to pack his bags and get out.

Laurie is one of many veterans who say they feel abandoned after returning from war Credit: ITV News

They offered no resettlement, no re-training, no counselling, no help at all. Having recently returned from Afghanistan, wounded, traumatised and with no family to turn to for help, Laurie found himself on the streets.

“That was when my war started; crying myself to sleep on a park bench at night, not wanting to be alive any more," he tells ITV News.

Homeless in London, scavenging for food from bins, and relying on charities for temporary accommodation while drinking more and more heavily, it was only a matter of time before Laurie got into more trouble.

“For me, not having that support and that routine and structure and that strong foundation was probably my biggest downfall," he says.

"Especially having no structure in your life, no family, you know, no support, two weeks notice to move then straight out of the camp, you might as well have stuck a live hand grenade on the street.”

Prison, it seems, was inevitable.

He continues: “In the parachute regiment you know, you’re conditioned to be violent, conditioned to be aggressive. I was a quiet boy before I joined the army.”

After two prison sentences and now diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Laurie is now trying to re-build his life.

He hopes to complete the degree he started in prison and find meaningful employment, but challenges remain.

The army was like a "family" to Laurie Credit: Laurie Spencer/ITV News

Laurie is still homeless and the hostels and hotels he has been assigned to live in are a positive invitation to start drinking again.

He longs to find somewhere quiet to stay, near his four-year-old daughter, somewhere he can be at peace.

ITV News asked Armed Forces Minister James Heappey, himself an Afghanistan veteran, whether the manner of Laurie’s dismissal from the army was appropriate.

Mr Heappey said that he had personally experienced a situation where a soldier he knew, who had completed a traumatic tour of Afghanistan, was dismissed from the Army after failing a drug test.

“I remember that being the most heartbreaking experience for everyone involved” he says.

“Army policy has evolved a lot since then,” he says, but admitted: “We’ve got more to do”.

He adds: “Believe me, when you have served with people who have struggled every single day since a tour that finished 12 years ago, you take personally the responsibility to deliver.”

Laurie is waiting to see what those words mean in practice.

Read more stories from our series Afghanistan: Photo From The Frontline