Sexual harassment, bullying and misogyny were “widespread and normalised” in the RAF’s Red Arrows display team, a damning inquiry report has found.
The chief of the air staff has apologised after the inquiry found that harassment, directed predominantly at women, would have created an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.
The report said it was highly likely women in the squadron had to deal with unwanted physical contact, unwanted sexual text messages, comments about their appearance and invitations to have sex.
In some instances, women were treated as “property” by individuals or by a squadron – and some formed groups known as “shark watch” to protect themselves in a social gathering with male members of the display team.
According to the report, the Red Arrows had loyalty to some individuals and dismissed some of their behaviour because they “did not want to ruin someone’s career”.
Two cases of exposure of genitals were also reported to the inquiry review team.
Two pilots from the aerobatic display team – often used to mark royal celebrations – were dismissed after members were investigated over the allegations.
A further nine members were given other sanctions following the two-year “under-the-table” inquiry into the RAF squadron.
The inquiry was launched after three female whistleblowers came forward in 2021, when reports about its drinking culture also emerged.
Women in the Red Arrows were hounded for sex, plied with alcohol and subjected to “predatory” behaviour by male colleagues, the inquiry found. Other members laughed about this behaviour.
Women would go to social situations as a group and would limit the amount of alcohol they drank, the report also said.
Alleged victims were told that if they spoke up they would be sent home or kicked out of the RAF, The Times reported.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton, said he was appalled by the report’s findings and apologised.
He said: “I want first to say that 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.
“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.”
In November, the commander of the Red Arrows was removed from his post while an alleged relationship he had with a junior team member was investigated.
Wing Commander David Montenegro, known as Monty, allegedly had an affair in 2017 that was reported to have resulted in the colleague’s pregnancy.
According to reports, Wing Cdr Montenegro, whose official title is Officer Commanding the RAF Aerobatic Team (OC RAFAT), was sent home from a Red Arrows tour of the Middle East. The allegations referred to a time when Wing Cdr Montenegro was in a previous role in the team.