Ousting of RAF chief was fair, say officers

THE SANDY WILSON AFFAIR: Senior military men express disquiet at `programmed leak' from inner circle
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew "Sandy" Wilson "got what was coming to him" in the words of a former senior RAF officer yesterday.

The Air Chief Marshal - the last commander of the RAF in Germany at the end of the Cold War era - was forced to resign over criticism of the part he played in the £387,000 refurbishment of his official residence.

The feeling in the RAF, and in the other services, too, was not that he was being made a scapegoat to head off another embarrassment for the Government, but that genuine questions had been raised about his judgement.

"Has he been maltreated? On balance, no," was the verdict of another senior officer. There has been no suggestion that the 53-year-old head of the RAF's personnel and training command did anything illegal in connection with the work at Haymes Garth, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire - one of 78 "official service residences" and valued at £275,000-£300,000 - according to a report the Ministry of Defence issued yesterday.

Other senior officers yesterday seemed in agreement that to allow a cost overrun of £127,000 on refurbishing such a property, with £60,000 spent on carpets, curtains and interior decorations, was a sign of gross misjudgement at a time of defence cuts. "But Haymes Garth has been eclipsed by the way the whole thing has been handled - the way there has been a programmed leak,"another senior officer said. Whatever errors of judgement Sir Andrew may have made, there is widespread concern about the leak of the report, which was known to only a handful of people in the MoD, and may, senior servicemen believe, have come from Downing Street.

RAF sources said Sir Andrew, who earned £95,050 a year, was "not the frugal type", and that he had been involved in similar cases before. An MoD audit found that he had authorised £39,000 worth of improvements to his residence in Rheindalen, Germany, shortly before it was sold to a private buyer.

Sir Andrew was tipped as next Chief of the Air Staff - the head of the RAF. His career paralleled that of Air Chief Marshal Sir John Thompson. After Sir John's sudden death last year, Sir Andrew looked set to succeed to the highest post. From 1991 to 1994, he was the last Commander-in- Chief of RAF Germany and the last commander of Nato's Second Allied Tactical Air Force. He was the first Air Commander of British forces in the Falkland Islands after the 1982 war, and helped to reorganise the MoD in 1985. As the Air Vice-Marshal commanding No 1 Group, RAF Strike Command, he was the first British Forces Commander during the 1990 Gulf crisis.

As Tory MPs unsuccessfully demanded a Commons statement from the Secretary of State for Defence, Malcolm Rifkind, Labour's defence spokesman, David Clark, said the Air Chief Marshal had been made a scapegoat: "Sir Sandy Wilson has made several grave errors of judgement. But he is not the only one to blame." Mr Rifkind carried the responsibility for the lack of financial control at the MoD and in refusing to face the House he was "cutting and running".