Women in RAF’s Red Arrows viewed as 'property' as predatory behaviour 'normalised', inquiry finds

1 November 2023, 16:20 | Updated: 1 November 2023, 17:19

Air Chief Marshal Sir Rich Knighton apologised following the findings
Air Chief Marshal Sir Rich Knighton apologised following the findings. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Predatory behaviour towards women in the RAF's Red Arrows was widespread and "normalised", with women viewed as the "property" of an individual or the squadron, an inquiry has heard.

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There was unwanted physical contact, sexual texts and invitations to engage in sexual activity, the inquiry found. There were also two incidents of exposure of genitals.

But the inappropriate behaviour went unchallenged due to "bystander culture" all the way up the chain of command.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton, the head of the Royal Air Force, said he was "appalled" at the findings from the non-statutory inquiry.

He apologised to those who suffered between 2017 and 2021 - after three women raised the alarm to the previous chief of the air.

Moving forward, he vowed to use "the most severe sanctions available" to deal with those using inappropriate behaviour.

Two pilots were dismissed from the Red Arrows and the RAF following an initial investigation in 2022. Five others on the team have faced "administrative actions".

However, none of the allegations reached the threshold for criminal charges, following a separate military police investigation.

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The Red Arrows
The Red Arrows. Picture: Alamy

"I am sorry and offer my unreserved apologies to any individuals that were subjected to unacceptable behaviours during their association with the Red Arrows, particularly the three women who felt they had no option but to raise their complaints directly with my predecessor," Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton said.

"The reports show that during the period investigated, unacceptable behaviours were widespread and 'normalised' on the Red Arrows. These included sexual harassment, bullying and an alcohol-focused culture.

"The situation was compounded by a 'bystander culture', meaning people did not challenge what was happening. The behaviours described by witnesses in the reports have no place in the Royal Air Force - or anywhere else. The findings of the investigations are clear.

"Actions have been taken against a number of individuals, up to and including dismissal from the Service.

"I was appalled when I read the investigations' findings. The behaviour of a minority of individuals has harmed the Squadron's reputation and that of the Royal Air Force. Like my predecessor, I am intent on rebuilding public trust in one of our highest profile units. I know that the current team is working hard to do just that.

"The leadership, air and ground crews of the Red Arrows have undergone many changes since the period covered by the investigations, with few still serving on the Squadron from that time. I have confidence in the command and people of the current Squadron.

"More broadly, I would like to make it very clear today that where appropriate, I will not hesitate to use the most severe sanctions available to me to deal with those whose behaviour harms others."

Read the report in full here.

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