Aids warning casts a shadow over army town where sex is easy

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"I have booked an Aids test with my doctor," said the 30-year- old divorcee. "My dad told me to. He said over the phone 'I love you, and don't take this the wrong way, but please have a test'. So I've done it."

The woman was sitting with her girlfriends in a cafe at the centre of Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire. About 100 soldiers at the garrison are believed to have taken Aids tests after a confidential army memo was sent to 5,500 troops, warning that two women living near the camp, are carrying the HIV virus. All the tests are so far believed to have been negative.

The formal warning had been issued it said, because of the "liberal affections towards soldiers" of the two women living close to the camp.

The woman in the cafe said: "I have been promiscuous and I am engaged now just for two months. My fiance, a squaddie, has been promiscuous too and we both know each other's histories. If the test is negative, I will never have unprotected sex again."

Her "happily married friend", sitting next to her, said young girls who were picked up at the haunts at the garrison frequented by soldiers should take care.

"They can easily pass for 20, the way they dress up, and the squaddies just take their pick. These girls don't know what they are doing or the risks they are taking. But women living near a camp like this only have to walk down the street in a short black dress and they are marked as easy.

"It's very much a man's world here as you might expect. Women are just an ego boost for them. You've heard about the two-day rule - you are never seen with the same woman twice, sex is very casual here."

As the women spoke, a press conference was being called by the camp's deputy commander, Colonel Neil Donaldson, who said: "I feel we have a duty of care. We have some very young soldiers who are somehow vulnerable. We have decided to warn them there is a significant risk to their health and are invited to modify their behaviour." Col Donaldson said there was nothing they could do to stop people meeting each other. But he added that he felt a warning should be given and in doing that they had discharged the duty of care.

The order posted by Col Donaldson said: "These ... females are believed to be liberal with their affections, particularly to soldiers, and are not averse to indulging in casual sex, often unprotected.

"All ranks are reminded that there is no known cure for Aids, in short it is a killer."

He said: "We have had information from a number of sources which I can only describe as confidential that there are a number of females in the general area of the garrison who have contracted the Aids virus and are HIV positive."

One of the two women said to be at the centre of the alert, told reporters she she was a victim of rumour-mongers, did not have Aids, and would take a test to prove it. "I'm getting sick of it. They're making a big deal out of nothing and it's distressing me."

The 18-year-old added: "The sooner I get the test done, the better. I've left it too late anyway. But I don't care. I'm still going to get it done." She insisted she "had not been with many soldiers" but said that when she received the results of the test, she would like to "get it photocopied and sent round everywhere".

The second woman implicated in the scare is believed to be aged 20, and a friend of the 18-year-old. A neighbour said she had asked the woman if the Aids rumour was true and she had also denied it.

More than 10,000 soldiers and civilians are based at Catterick. The garrison has 5,500 military personnel, but at the moment only one regiment is stationed at the base. Four regiments are on service in Bosnia and two in Northern Ireland.