A NEW watchdog to investigate the way bullying and abuse cases are dealt with in the Armed Forces is “long-overdue”, says an anti-bullying campaigner.

Servicemen and women will be able to take complaints of mistreatment they believe have not been properly dealt with to an independent ombudsman under the reforms set out by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

It comes after warnings from the service complaints commissioner, Susan Atkins, that the current system is failing with too many cases subject to unreasonable delays or badly handled.

The changes will mean the commissioner's role becomes that of an ombudsman, giving her new powers including the ability to overturn a decision to exclude a complaint.

The reforms have been welcomed by Lynn Farr, who set up Daniel's Trust in 2005 to help Armed Forces personnel who were being bullied.

Mrs Farr has repeatedly called for the commissioner to be given more powers.

She said: “The setting up of an ombudsmen is long-overdue - I think it's a brilliant move.

“We've been asking for this since 2005 when we gave evidence to the select committee on the military's duty of care.”

Mrs Farr set up Daniel's Trust after her son, Daniel, collapsed at the Infantry Training Centre, in Catterick Garrison, and later died in hospital in 1997.

Dr Atkins was appointed in the wake of Nicholas Blake's 2006 review into the deaths of young Army recruits at Deepcut barracks in Surrey.

Private Geoff Gray, 17, from Seaham, County Durham, died at the barracks from two gunshot wounds to his head in 2001.

Pte Gray's father, also called Geoff, has also previously called for the commissioner to be given more powers.

The changes mean personnel will be able to bring in the independent ombudsman to review the handling of their complaint after one internal appeal - a move that is hoped will significantly speed up the system that can currently see cases take years to resolve.

The watchdog will have the power to look at complaints that go to the highest levels of the Armed Forces and can make recommendations about how a case should be dealt with, although its findings will not be legally binding.

Mr Hammond said: “We have worked closely with the service complaints commissioner to ensure our personnel have the protection and support they need.”