Army head promoted to new defence chief: Rifkind acts quickly to put revelations behind armed forces

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IN A SWIFT move to end a politically embarrassing chapter, General Sir Peter Inge, Chief of the General Staff, was promoted to Chief of the Defence Staff, Britain's most senior military post, yesterday in the wake of the resignation of his predecessor, Sir Peter Harding, after allegations of being involved in an adulterous affair.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, acted promptly to restore a firm hand to the tiller of the nation's defence by appointing General Inge, 58, who has been standing in as acting Chief of the Defence Staff since Monday, to the pounds 112,083-a-year post. Mr Rifkind was anxious not to leave the armed forces without decisive leadership at a time when they are embroiled in the most sweeping review of defence expenditure for years.

As principal military adviser to the Government and head of Britain's 250,000-strong armed forces, General Inge will be closely involved in the current Defence Cost Study, which has to find pounds 2.3bn savings in support operations over the next three years. He will also have to fight the cause of all three services, while maintaining good relations with Downing Street and the Treasury.

General Inge, who was chosen in preference to Admiral Sir Jock Slater, 55, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, will be replaced as Chief of the General Staff by General Sir Charles Guthrie, 55, commander of British Forces Germany. Both appointments are effective immediately.

Sir Peter Harding resigned on Sunday night after newspaper allegations that he had an affair with Bienvenida Perez-Blanco, 32, at a time when she was married to Sir Antony Buck, 65, a former Tory MP and junior Navy minister in the Heath administration.

During Sir Peter Harding's tenure as Chief of Defence Staff, the MoD issued its own code of conduct warning service personnel against extra-marital affairs. Sir Peter, 60, has been married for 39 years and has four children.

General Inge has a reputation for being dynamic, articulate and forward-thinking. Personable and engaging, he has proved to be a wily and forceful Whitehall warrior. Rather than protest, like some other senior officers, about the axing of individual famous regiments, he has always insisted that the battle is about overall military numbers.

Before General Inge became Chief of the General Staff of the Army in 1992 he was Commander- in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine and Commander of Nato's Northern Army Group, in which role he played a major part in orchestrating Britain's involvement in the Gulf war.

General Inge, who is married with two daughters, was commissioned into the Green Howards after Sandhurst in 1956 and commanded his regiment in Northern Ireland, England and Berlin. He was knighted in January 1988 and made an aide-de-camp General to the Queen in February 1991. His recreations include cricket, walking, music and reading.

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