Red Arrows face misogyny, bullying and sexual harassment probe as RAF bids to clampdown on claims of ‘toxic culture’ inside elite aerobatics squadron
- Young female recruits are amongst 40 staff who provided 250 hours of evidence
- There has been a ‘long-running’ inquiry into the ‘toxic pocket’ of the RAF team
- Alleged victims have reportedly told speaking up would lead to them being fired
- One source said girls joining the squadron are ‘basically considered fresh meat’
The Red Arrows are under fire in the biggest scandal for the team in its 60-year history as its members are accused of sexual harassment, assault, misogyny and bullying.
Several young female recruits are amongst more than 40 personnel who have given 250 hours of evidence to a ‘long-running’ inquiry into the ‘toxic pocket’ of the RAF.
One anonymous source has said the elite aerobic team treats female recruits like ‘fresh meat’, adding that members of the 130-strong squadron would pester newbies as soon as they joined, ‘bombarding’ them with WhatsApp messages.
The display team is the pride of the Royal Air Force and the public face of the service, performing death-defying stunts, zooming over crowds producing perfect plumes of red, white and blue smoke at key British events and royal celebrations.
But an ongoing investigation launched by Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston in December 2021 has exposed detrimental issues in a team already operating below strength.
One female staff member said: ‘The girls who join the squadron are basically considered fresh meat. All of [the men] are married and they just don’t leave them alone.
‘It’s a toxic environment… It’s all men in senior positions. It is run by misogynistic white male blokes,’ she told The Times.
The Red Arrows are under fire in the biggest scandal for the team in its 60-year history as its members are accused of sexual harassment, assault, misogyny and bullying
She added that many women were ‘at risk’ because of the numerous ‘toxic pockets’ within the RAF but there is ‘no urgency to act’, noting that senior staff members ‘swept complaints under the carpet’ to keep the reputation of ‘untouchable’ people clean.
Alleged victims have reportedly been told for months that speaking up would lead to them being sent home or fired from the force.
At least two Red Arrows personnel are under investigation over ‘inappropriate behaviour’ allegations, an inside source told the publication. A service police investigation into these did not meet the threshold for criminal charges.
The non-statutory inquiry has documented at least 13 alleged incidents of sexual harassment, assault and sexual assault, bullying, intimidation, indecent exposure, victimisation, ‘misunderstanding of consent’, misogyny and isolation.
This comes after Armed Forces minister James Heappey denied claims that a ‘pause’ had been put in place on job offers for white men in favour of women and ethnic minorities, in order to hit ‘impossible’ diversity targets.
He said Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, who heads the RAF, had asked the team to ‘pause’ offering all training slots while he and his leadership consider how they might take positive action to assist improving diversity levels on various training courses in the year to March 2023.
He stressed that no policy is implemented yet despite the RAF recruitment team receiving an order on August 2 from the chain of command, according to Sky News.
Members of the Red Arrows, based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, have also been accused of drunkenness, but an RAF spokeswoman said the allegations were ‘unfounded’.
Mr Heappey told Times Radio he was confident that Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston and his team were investigating the allegations.
He said: ‘The very highest of standards are demanded of our armed forces across the board, and 99.99% of them deliver in spades.
‘Those who have the privilege of serving in an organisation like the Red Arrows have, I think, an even greater responsibility because they are so much in the public eye – and the allegations that have been made are very concerning indeed.
‘The Royal Air Force have taken, I think, the right action in that they have got those against whom these allegations have been made under investigation.
The ongoing investigation launched by Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston (pictured) in December 2021 has exposed detrimental issues in a team already operating below strength
‘I’m confident that the Chief of the Air Staff and his team are investigating these allegations – they’ve taken action to remove them from the display team for this season.
‘We’ll wait until those investigations are complete before the individuals responsible are held to account.’
The team, which normally consists of nine pilots titled Red 1 to Red 9 with their supervisor as Red 10, as well as a ground crew and commanding officer, is now down to a skeleton team of seven.
Flight Lieutenant Damon Green, in his late 30s, who was a Red 8, left the team for ‘personal reasons’ in January while Flight Lieutenant Will Cambridge, 39, who was a Red 4, was suspended after allegedly having an affair with a junior female colleague.
Squadron lead Nick Critchell, 36, resigned over a ‘toxic culture’ at training in Croatia and Greece, but the RAF said he left ‘for personal reasons to embark on a different career opportunity’.
Ongoing hostilities are ‘a disaster for the RAF’, one former pilot told The Sun this week: ‘The Red Arrows are their public face and the public love them but they have no idea what is going on behind the scenes.
‘That’s why the RAF have tried so hard to keep a lid on this.’
The source added: ‘There is something really rotten in this team. It should be the highlight of pilots’ careers to fly for the Red Arrows. But they have lost three this year. The hierarchy has to ask itself why. There are good people there who are trying to fix it but it is an unhappy place.’
The Red Arrows have also been accused of tolerating a heavy drinking culture.
Due to the high-risk nature of their work, the team are supposed to adhere to the strict rules governing alcohol consumption.
Flight Lieutenant Will Cambridge, 39 (left), who was a Red 4, was suspended after allegedly having an affair with a junior female colleague. Pictured right, squadron lead Nick Critchell, 36, resigned over a ‘toxic culture’
The team, which normally consists of nine pilots titled Red 1 to Red 9 with their supervisor as Red 10, as well as a ground crew and commanding officer, is now down to a skeleton team of seven. Flight Lieutenant Damon Green, pictured, who was a Red 8, left the team for ‘personal reasons’ in January
There have only been 160 pilots since the team was formed in 1964, in which time 12 have died.
Specifically, a ‘bottle to throttle’ limit completely prohibits the consumption of alcohol in the ten hours before entering a cockpit, while anyone found reporting for duty with more than 20milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of blood (a quarter of the drink-drive limit) will usually face court martial.
However the rules have historically been taken with a pinch of salt. As one RAF veteran of the early 2000s puts it: ‘Back in the day, when the Reds trained in Greece, they were notable for getting absolutely trollied in the bar and then taking off as a nine ship [formation] the following morning and doing some frankly rather impressive flying.
‘They are very much alpha males who have big opinions of themselves and used to be absolutely notorious for womanising, even the married ones.
‘It was as if, like some British holidaymakers, they simply forgot to pack their morals whenever they flew out to the Med.’
One source also told The Times that alcohol would have still been in their systems after drinking into the early hours which sometimes resulted in brawls.
The investigation was supposed to have concluded in May but has been delayed multiple times, and it is not known when its findings will be published.
An RAF spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The RAF has a zero tolerance approach to unacceptable behaviour and takes action wherever wrongdoing is proven.
‘Following allegations of unacceptable behaviour within the “Red Arrows”, the RAF commissioned a thorough and far-reaching investigation.
‘We will not be commenting further on the individual circumstances of specific personnel moves, which have been made without prejudice and are the result of both personal and professional reasons.
‘The allegations of Red Arrows pilots flying while intoxicated are unfounded. All RAF pilots, in the Red Arrows or otherwise, are subject to strict regulations on alcohol consumption before conducting any flying.
‘Safety remains paramount and any pilot found to have breached those regulations would simply not be permitted to fly, and would face disciplinary action.’
The RAF confirmed that a number of Service personnel, who were part of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, are subject to investigation ‘under the administrative action process’ after the inappropriate behaviours allegations.
They noted that none of the Red Arrows pilots currently on the team ‘currently busy delivering a successful Display Season’ are accused of any wrong-doing.
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