Sexual harassment complaints by bullied British troops have surged, with more than a dozen reports being made since the start of the year, a military chief has warned.
Colonel Philip Ingram, founder of the Independent Defence Authority which lobbies for armed forces personnel, claimed 15 serving personnel had approached his organisation for help in the past month.
The former military intelligence officer’s revelation came as fresh allegations of sleaze in the RAF emerged this week, following on from damning claims about sexual harassment plaguing the air force’s famed Red Arrows display team.
In the latest scandal, an RAF servicewoman revealed how she would lock herself in the toilets to avoid her sex pest manager’s perverted advances – with the torment becoming so severe she later quit the military.
Spymaster Mr Ingram, who spent 26 years in the Army, said a ‘toxic’ culture of misogyny and sexism, combined with a lack of action by senior commanders had led to troops ‘losing faith’ in the official system of complaints.
The retired defence chief also warned current efforts to combat sleaze were failing, with top brass undertaking a ‘tick-box exercise’ and that an independent body free from the military chain of command was needed to handle the problem.
Fearing ‘appalling’ complaints about predators were being overlooked’, the veteran officer warned: ‘Senior leaders in the RAF believe they’ve sorted the problem. The reality is this has just been pushed further under the carpet.’
Mr Ingram, who has represented victims of harassment and abuse in the Red Arrows, said the vast majority of the most recent complaints were from personnel in the RAF. But sailors in the Royal Navy and soldiers in the British Army have also spoken out.
He said more than a dozen people had contacted his group seeking advice on how to deal with their complaints.
‘They have contacted me because they have lost faith in following the official routes to bring this to attention,’ he said, adding: ‘There needs to be a culture change from the bottom right the way up to the very top.’
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) insisted every service person who makes a complaint is given ‘comprehensive welfare support’.
It added ‘significant progress’ has been made to improve the defence service complaints process, with the MoD insisting it is ‘committed to providing a fair, efficient and effective’ system.
‘Where complaints are made by personnel they are independently and comprehensively investigated. The RAF takes all allegations of unacceptable behaviour very seriously and will continue to take decisive action against anyone who fails to uphold the high standards set,’ an RAF spokesman added.
But fresh concerns have today been raised by a lawyer who represents military personnel.
Ahmed Al-Nahhas, head of the military claims team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, claimed the current complaint system ‘focused on protecting the chain of command and the reputation of the military’
‘The MoD’s approach to dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct is fundamentally flawed. In many ways, the military courts are rigged against claimants, and do not provide Servicewomen with the same access to justice they would receive in the civilian courts,’ the lawyer told MailOnline.
‘When women come forward about inappropriate sexual behaviour in the military, they are often victim-blamed, and their experiences are belittled.
‘Those who speak out often find their careers are negatively affected. Very few trust the MoD to resolve these complaints fairly and this puts them off from raising complaints, because they know it’s likely to do them more harm than good.’
The news comes after the Red Arrows were rocked by scandalous claims of sexual abuse, harassment of female crew members and bullying within the acclaimed flying force.
The shocking allegations were first reported by the Mail in 2022. Eventually a pair of Top Guns were sacked, but neither pilot faced criminal charges.
The alleged behaviour took place between 2017 and 2021 and was brought to light after a number of female victims approached former Air Chief Marshall Sir Mike Wigston in December 2021 – prompting a non-statutory inquiry.
The subsequent in-house probe found certain pilots treated female crew members as ‘property’ and engaged in predatory behaviour.
This misconduct was accepted due to a ‘bystander culture’. The women suffered unwanted physical contact, sexual texts and invitations to engage in sexual activity.
When the RAF’s findings were published in November, the chief of the Air Staff, Sir Richard Knighton, apologised ‘unreservedly’ for their experiences.
The findings painted a damning picture, confirming widespread unacceptable behaviour including sexual harassment, the flashing of genitals and predatory activity.
The report also found an ‘alcohol-focused culture’ had plagued the squadron, as well as bullying and too many bystanders failing to call out the wrongdoing.
In total, two pilots were sacked and nine individuals were sanctioned. However, no criminal charges were ever brought against those involved.
Fresh claims emerged this week about a woman in the RAF, who faced ‘constant’ sexual harassment from her male manager which became so severe she quit her job.
Opening up about her torment, ex-air force employee Grace – which is not her real name – said her boss would try to grill her in ‘graphic’ detail about her sex life.
So relentless was the alleged questioning, it left Grace feeling unsafe, ‘scared to go into work’ and suffering from crippling ‘panic attacks’.
Speaking of her abuse Grace – who served in the RAF for three years – said she was berated with ‘constant explicit sexual remarks and comments’ while at work and had to lock herself in the toilets to escape.
‘There was really graphic questioning about how I would engage in sexual activities. I can remember on a couple of occasions going into the toilet and locking myself in to stop myself from being alone in a room with that person,’ she told the BBC.
Grace complained informally about her boss but claimed she was then sanctioned by the RAF, with the MoD later admitting this amounted to ‘victimisation’.
The RAF upheld Grace’s formal complaint about her boss, with the service saying the harassment was found proven.
The air force later recommended her manager received ‘disciplinary action’.
Victims of sexual abuse can find help by visiting Victim Support’s website or calling 08 08 16 89 111