Outstanding high-flier 'downed' by tabloids: Patricia Wynn Davies reports on the ignominy surrounding the ending of an exemplary armed services career
Monday 14 March 1994
As newspapers rushed to follow up the News of the World exclusive late on Saturday night, Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, defended Sir Peter, saying he had 'total confidence in the professional abilities of his Chief of the Defence Staff'.
Less than 24 hours later - a lot sooner than in the case of some ministers, but as soon as the extent of the News of the World material became known - he had no option but to quit over the relationship with Lady Buck, ex-wife of a former Navy minister.
Sir Peter, 60, had reached the pinnacle of his career through sheer hard work and single-minded devotion. He was named Chief of Defence Staff in May 1992. With it went the rank of Marshal of the RAF. In effect, this is the most sensitive and crucial post in the military hierarchy, a job which, it is said, requires the skills of a diplomat, a strategist and a warrior.
Sir Peter, an expert on relations with the Russians, took a number of key appointments as his career progressed, including one at Nato's Shape military headquarters. He was assistant chief of staff for plans and policy for the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe in the early 1980s, and Commander-in-Chief of United Kingdom Air Forces from 1985 to 1988, when he became Chief of the Air Staff.
A Londoner by birth, he joined the Royal Air Force in 1952. He is a pilot of prodigious experience having flown 128 types of aircraft, including the Russian Su-27 Flanker.
Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: 'To become Chief of Defence Staff, a man needs outstanding abilities. Sir Peter Harding had those in full measure, and so long as his ability to do his job was unaffected, I can see no reason why he should have resigned.'
But the single-minded career officer presided over the most traditional section of British life where marriage and family life are revered and adultery is an affront to accepted values. Sir Peter, an accomplished jazz pianist as well as a 'five-star' serviceman, and his wife Sheila have four children.
Labour demanded an inquiry to ensure that the affair had not given rise to any security lapses.
David Clark, the party's spokesman on defence, said: 'This man knew all our military secrets and one must be absolutely certain that there have been no lapses in our security.'
- 1 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 2 Margaret Thatcher 'expressed fears of Asian rising' at Anglo-Irish summit in 1984
- 3 Sussex couple die in suspected Christmas Day 'suicide pact'
- 4 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 5 The Unluckiest People of the Year 2014 (and one very unlucky giraffe)
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'
Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...
£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...
£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...