Red Arrows have shamed us, says head of the RAF
Sex pests thrived in ‘bystander culture’
THE head of the RAF apologised unreservedly yesterday after a damning report revealed how a ‘ bystander culture’ allowed a regime of sexual harassment to thrive in the Red Arrows.
The Chief of the Air Staff Sir Richard Knighton said he was appalled to learn about the abuse and harassment suffered by women crew members.
His remarks came after an official probe confirmed Red Arrows pilots preyed on these women, even treating them as their ‘ property’, while commanders turned a blind eye.
Many of its findings on ‘predatory behaviour’ were initially revealed by the Mail last year.
Yesterday’s report was based on the evidence of 43 personnel, including many women aviators, who provided 240 hours of evidence.
Their testimony resulted in 11 RAF officers being censured, although only two pilots were dismissed from the service.
The report, although heavily redacted, detailed a litany of unacceptable behaviours by elite pilots who considered themselves unimpeachable. The abuse included assaults, demands for sexual intercourse and inappropriate touching. Pilots also exposed their genitals and bullied junior colleagues.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard said: ‘Unacceptable behaviours were widespread and normalised. The situation was compounded by a bystander culture, meaning people did not challenge what was happening.
‘I was appalled when I read the findings and I offer my unreserved apologies to individuals that were subjected to these unacceptable behaviours, which damaged the reputation of the Red Arrows. I will not hesitate to use the most severe sanctions available to deal with those whose behaviour harms others.’
The scandal led to calls for the Red Arrows to be disbanded. But Sir Richard confirmed the squadron will continue to perform.
The toxic culture from 2018 to 2022 was fuelled by heavy drinking, with most of the poor behaviour occurring when pilots were drunk.
The report said that a review team, appointed by the RAF, found the Red Arrows ‘was not a safe environment for females’. It listed the inappropriate behaviour they were subjected to, including ‘unwanted physical contact, unwanted text messages … exploring the possibility of initiating a sexual encounter, pressure to respond to these messages and to manage the situation rather than raise a formal complaint.’
To survive in this environment, the women adopted a ‘shark watch’ policy, with one always on the look-out for a predatory male. They would also limit their alcohol intake and modify their dress choices to avoid unwanted attention.
The inquiry found there was insufficient evidence to substantiate claims that pilots flew while under the influence of alcohol.
The toxic atmosphere and the failure of commanders to take appropriate action led to the resignation of a senior pilot. Squadron Leader Nick Critchell left the Red Arrows after confronting colleagues about their mistreatment of women.
The ‘bystander culture’ referred to by Sir Richard appeared to make a mockery of the RAF’s assurances that it had a ‘zero tolerance approach’ to unacceptable behaviour.
So too, according to the victims, did the RAF’s apparent failure to alert military police to the issues at the earliest opportunity. The report found senior officers dealt with disciplinary matters in-house.
The Mail learned a victim reported her ‘major concerns’ to superiors but was told the RAF did not intend to ‘take the matter further formally’.
Following our investigations last year, Flight Lieutenants Damon Green and Will Cambridge were sacked from the RAF.