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- March 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
A recent report by the Equal Opportunities Audit Team has found that allegations of ‘a culture of widespread bullying and brutality’ within the British Forces are, in the most part, unfounded. The audit team, which travelled to every Defence establishment across the UK and abroad and interviewed staff from all three services, found surprisingly few cases of unfair treatment and bullying within the Army and Navy.
When it came to the Air Force, however, the report told a different story. Complaints to the EOAT came from a total of 13,555 RAF members, compared with three from Navy and just one from Army.
While this statistic is alarming in its own right, it becomes horrific when one considers that each complaint represents a sad story of abuse, mistreatment and neglect. As one senior RAF officer put it, ‘Each story is, in itself, a sad indictment on the RAF. When taken as a whole, however, they demonstrate a reprehensible lack of regard for personnel on the part of RAF managers at all levels.’
- One young pilot told of having to spend two nights in tented accommodation, despite the fact that there was an empty five-star hotel just 1km away.
- One airwoman alleged that she had been overlooked for promotion on numerous occasions, simply because she was fat, lazy and stupid.
- An aircraftman stated he had been refused permission to wear civilian attire to work, despite the fact that his uniform clashed with his eye colour.
- An RAF clerk could not understand why she had been sent to work in a Joint military headquarters: ‘I have been forced to work for horrid Army people who just don’t understand what the military is all about. I feel the RAF has victimised me by forcing me to do this. I will be seeking compensation.’
Shockingly, RAF Senior Ranks are also subject to mistreatment. One SNCO Flight Sergeant stated, ‘I was deeply upset when I was addressed as ‘Flight Sergeant’ by an officer. He knew my name was Robert. It was just horrible I have never been more humiliated in my life.’ In response a senior RAF officer stated, ‘the officer in question has been moved on’.
A number of personnel complained of having to attend courses that were not relevant to their jobs, such as rigorous ground combat courses and drawn-out lectures on occupational health and safety. To add insult to injury, a young corporal was even ordered to pack up chairs in the classroom after one such course.
The huge backlash against treatment of Air Force personnel should provide senior officers with a vital clue with regard to the massive retention problems experienced by the RAF in recent times. Over the past two years, Defence has spent some ₤19.8 million looking into the issue.
Not all of the Air Force’s hierarchy, however, were upset by the revelations. Said outgoing Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Errol Flynn, KCB CBE DSO ADC B.Sc (Eng) FRAeS RAF, ‘I’m delighted with the result. I am very happy that our retention problems are due, in the most part at least, to something as harmless as bullying. I thought everyone was leaving because of me.’