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Red Arrows found guilty of predatory behaviour and systemic misconduct, RAF apologises for widespread sexual harassment

An inquiry into the highly-regarded Red Arrows aerobatic team of the Royal Air Force (RAF) has uncovered a troubling pattern of harassment against women, including rampant and unchallenged predatory behaviour.

Incidents involving inappropriate physical contact, sexually explicit messages, and coercive invitations for sexual encounters were not just widespread, but were alarmingly regarded as typical and acceptable conduct.

Women within the squadron were frequently treated as if they were the “property” of male colleagues, a degrading perception that went largely unopposed due to a prevalent “bystander culture”. The investigation has shed light on a disturbing ethos of passivity, where misconduct was routinely overlooked.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton expressed his shock at the discoveries and extended a heartfelt “unreserved apology” to the victims, especially to three women whose previous complaints had been neglected by their superiors. The probe, initiated in 2021, retrospectively examined cases as far back as 2017.

Acknowledging that the squadron members were often seen as “special” due to their high-profile performances—nearly 5,000 displays in 57 nations—the RAF conceded that such a status may have contributed to an erroneous belief that the usual codes of conduct were not applicable to them.

Despite the tarnished image of the Red Arrows caused by a “minority”, Air Chief Marshal Knighton said that the team would not be disbanded. He emphasised that recent shifts in culture and leadership, along with new protective measures, are being rigorously enforced to correct the deeply ingrained and “unacceptable behaviours”.

Much of the report was heavily redacted

The report mentioned numerous cases of unprofessional conduct, including indecent exposure, that went without rebuke. It suggested that such an environment was inherently unsafe for women, posing a high risk of unlawful harassment due to gender.

However, much of the report’s detail was blacked out, meaning that details were non existent.

The findings have also prompted criticism from the Defence Committee, with Chairman Robert Courts highlighting the “serious cultural problems” within the unit that pose a threat to the safety and well-being of service personnel.

Following initial inquiries in 2022, two pilots were expelled from the Red Arrows, and the RAF, with five other team members, faced administrative penalties. Subsequent military police investigations determined that none of the incidents met the criteria for criminal prosecution.

Now stationed at RAF Waddington after moving from RAF Scampton, the Red Arrows face a pivotal moment to rebuild trust and integrity within their ranks and the broader military community.

In response to the inquiry’s findings, Dr. Iain Overton, the Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, said: “The levels of normalised misogyny and predatory behaviour found within the Red Arrows team reflect a worrying trend that often emerges in male-dominated environments, particularly within certain factions of the military where an elite status can foster a dangerous sense of invincibility and exemption from societal norms. We have seen this elsewhere in the MOD and yet it still seems to continue, despite assurances that it is being addressed.”

“What was also concerning was the widespread redaction in the final report. Huge swathes of detail were blacked out, meaning that lessons learned are going to be harder and the line of ‘unacceptable’ remains all too unclear. It sometimes feels as if reputation management is baked into the public disclosure of inquiry – a factor that could well hinder reform.”