Shamed skipper of Big Lizzie to sail ship back to Portsmouth today

Shamed skipper of HMS Queen Elizabeth is to sail the aircraft carrier back home to Portsmouth today – before being stripped of his command for using his official car at weekends

  • Commodore Nick Cooke-Priest, 50, was sacked last week over car usage 
  • Senior Navy officials slammed the decision branding it a ‘witch hunt’
  • ‘Big Lizzie’ is now in Rosyth, Scotland where Cooke-Priest will sail to Portsmouth

Captain Nick Cooke-Priest OBE, who was sacked from his role as Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth, but will be sailing the vessel back to Portsmouth today 

The shamed captain of Britain’s largest aircraft carrier will sail her back to port today after being sacked for using an official car at weekends.

Commodore Nick Cooke-Priest, 50, was stripped of his command last week over claims he drove HMS Elizabeth’s Ford Galaxy in his spare time ‘like it was his own’.

The Royal Navy confirmed the married father-of-three would no longer be in charge of the £3billion vessel known as ‘Big Lizzie’ after an investigation found he made an ‘error of judgement’. 

But despite being fired he is being flown back to where the ship is stationed in Rosyth, on the Firth of Forth, so he can sail it back to its home in Portsmouth, reports The Daily Telegraph. 

The Ministry of Defence told the newspaper it ‘makes sense’ for him to sail the ship back to port while he is still technically in charge.

A Navy spokesman said: ‘Cdre Cook Priest has not yet been recalled, he has simply not yet been reassigned and will remain in command until he is.’   

Cdre Cooke-Priest had been the captain of the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier since October. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth (pictured) is one of the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy and capable of carrying up to 60 aircraft. It has 700 crew and is currently stationed in Fife, Scotland

Commodore Nick Cooke-Priest, 50, was stripped of his command last week over claims he drove HMS Elizabeth’s Ford Galaxy (file image used) in his spare time ‘like it was his own’ 

He took over the ship after a period working with the Ministry of Defence in the Corporate Strategy Group and the Standing Joint Force Headquarters as the assistant chief of staff of operation.

Admiral Alan West, former First Sea Lord and security adviser to Gordon Brown slammed the decision to take Big Lizzie from him. Other senior officials branded the investigation a ‘witch hunt’  

Admiral West said: ‘Nick Cooke-Priest is a very good officer and highly competent and nice officer and I would be surprised he has done anything dishonest but I don’t know the details so I cannot comment further.’ 

Insiders claim the captain was never warned the ship car was for official duties only, and was said to be ‘gutted’ after discovering he had breached the rules by making personal journeys in the Galaxy.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth was built at the Rosyth Dockyard in Fife, where it is currently stationed (pictured in front of the Forth Bridge) 

HMS Queen Elizabeth goes under the Forth Rail Bridge, and Queens Ferry Crossing in Scotland as it returns to the docks for scheduled maintenance last month

A retired commanding officer of a Royal Navy aircraft carrier said that without knowing the terms of the lease of the vehicle to Cdre Cooke-Priest, he felt the decision to remove him from his position was an over-reaction to a minor error.

He said: ‘On the face of it it seems quite harsh but it would depend on the terms on which it was leased. A number of people in government use cars for all sorts of purposes.

‘I know of him and he is seen as a fine chap, it seems somewhat harsh and smacks of political correctness.’

Cooke-Priest, who received an OBE in 2016, was then relieved of his duties commanding the carrier, which has a crew of 700 and is capable of carrying up to 60 aircraft including the new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. 

But today he is being sent back to steer the ship to safety.  

There is no allegation of fraud and the officer, who joined the Royal Navy in 1990, paid for his own petrol.

But it still remains unclear what personal trips the Ford Galaxy was used for. 

Cooke-Priest currently sits as the Chairman of the UK Armed Forces Equestrian Association and is a Liveryman of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots. 

It is not yet known whether or not these roles will be changed following his dismissal. 

Who is Commodore Nick Cooke-Priest?

Commodore Cooke-Priest had specialised as a Lynx helicopter observer after joining the Royal Navy. A decade of flying appointments followed, primarily at sea, and included an instructional tour and as Flight Commander of HMS Exeter.

He was promoted to Commander in 2009 and that year in HMS Kent escorted the Queen during a royal tour.

On HMS Iron Duke, he was deployed to the Arabian Gulf and in 2011 to Libya as part of Operation Ellamy.

Assuming command of HMS Bulwark, the Fleet Flag Ship, in January 2015 and leading the UK’s contribution to the Gallipoli centenary commemorations in the same year are other highlights of his successful career.

He is a married father of three sons and was awarded an OBE in 2016. In his spare time he enjoys skiing, sailing and shooting.

Insiders also claimed the respected officer’s position had become ‘untenable’ when he was no longer able to properly discipline his sailors after breaking the rules himself. 

He last tweeted on April 6, and praised his crew for their effort and work, he said: ‘To team Portsmouth for their tremendous work over the past 3 months, Forth Pilots for their utter professionalism bringing us into Dry Dock today, and my outstanding Ship’s Company for their enduring commitment, thank you. 

‘Another milestone on the road to Carrier Strike.’  

The ship is currently docked at Rosyth naval dockyard in Fife, where local workers and residents told MailOnline that the move to sack Cdre Cooke-Priest as ‘heavy-handed’ and a ‘disgrace’.

One local hospitality worker said: ‘It’s a bloody disgrace. He was paying for his own petrol anyway. What was going to happen to the car if he wasn’t driving it? It would’ve just sat in a car park somewhere.’

And local pensioner Simon Morris, 74, said: ‘I don’t understand the logic behind it. Why would they get rid of him like that without disciplining him and telling him not to do it again? It doesn’t make sense at all.’

Stay-at-home mother Felicity Sturrock, 41, said the captain should have been given a second chance, adding: ‘That man’s lost his livelihood and it will have damaged his reputation, and for what, really?’

And Liam Anderson, 33, a bricklayer, said: ‘I saw it online earlier and just thought it was a bit heavy handed from the Navy. I feel sorry for the guy. He’s worked his way up his entire career and to be let go like that is really poor.’

Captain Steven Moorhouse, who was commander of sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, will take charge of the warship.

In the meantime Cooke-Priest has been assigned a ‘new role’ in the Navy – though it was not clear what this involves.

Captain Stephen Moorhouse OBE (pictured above) will take over the command of HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is worth £3billion 

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