Scouts in turmoil over sackings: Allegations of victimisation and arrogance have alienated Berkshire group. Heather Mills reports

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The Independent Online
'WE WANT to make our nation entirely one of gentlemen, who have a strong sense of honour, of chivalry towards others and of playing the game bravely . . . with a sense of fair play and happiness for all.' Robert Baden-Powell, Scout Headquarters Gazette, 1914.

IN the Royal County of Berkshire there is a belief that the hierarchy of the Scouts Association has forgotten the sentiments upon which the movement was founded.

Words like trust, loyalty, respect - the tenets of Scout law - have been replaced by allegations of injustice, victimisation and arrogance. In the wooden hut that houses the 100- strong Cox Green Scout Group in Maidenhead there have been angry scenes, rebellion - even a libel writ.

It all centres on the association's treatment of two of its leaders. After each devoting more than 20 years to Scouting and Guiding, Shirley and Clive Hammond were suddenly, in effect, sacked as Scout leaders, with no reasons given and no right of appeal. Scouting managers had simply refused to renew their leadership warrants. Mrs Hammond, 50, was informed of the decision in a note put through her letterbox.

Mr Hammond, 47, was refused a warrant for venture unit leader; his assistant district commissioner warrant was cancelled at the same time as he won the Scout Medal of Merit; and he had heard nothing formally since applying last November for his Scout leader's warrant - until two weeks ago, when the group's summer camp for 24 boys was due to start. It would have had to be cancelled if Mr Hammond had had no warrant, and he was suddenly told it would be granted.

But that eleventh-hour move has only confirmed what parents and Scouts in the group see as 'shoddy and cavalier' treatment of the couple. 'His warrant should have been granted straight away. The association only gave it to him when they had no alternative,' said Arthur White, chairman of the Parents' Action Group, which has been set up to campaign for justice for the Hammonds.

The issue has dominated the columns of the local newspaper, the Maidenhead Advertiser. Parents and Scouts have written to Scout management, right up to to W Garth Morrison, the Chief Scout. Parents believe they should have a say in who looks after their children. But their calls for an inquiry have been rejected.

The action committee passed a vote of no confidence in the new acting group Scout leader, Bill Carter, appointed by the association to replace Mrs Hammond. He resigned.

The problems can be traced back to a disagreement over a camp for the venture unit Scout in 1991, but some say that at the root of the trouble is a personality clash between the Hammonds and their district commissioner, Robin Wager. It was Mr Wager and the six-strong district appointments sub-committee that decided not to renew Mrs Hammond's warrant. The Hammonds have issued a libel writ against Mr Wager over a letter he wrote to seven Scouting officials which included references to the couple.

Mr White said: 'I cannot express the anger and frustration at the savage way we feel the Hammonds have been treated. They have the respect of the parents and the boys.' Another parent, Dave Butcher, said: 'It is a total nonsense and has brought the Scout movement into disrepute at a local and national level.'

But the Scout Association defended its treatment of the Hammonds. John Fogg, its public relations officer, said: 'Under the rules there is no requirement to give specific reasons.' Rejecting the parents' suggestion that the decision was against natural justice and the spirit of Scouting, he said: 'This was a management decision, made by local management, which was reviewed by county management. It was felt that a change of leadership was required.'

Roger King, the county commissioner, denied that there was any arrogance or injustice, saying he was 'appalled and amazed' at the parents' rejection of Mr Carter.

The Chief Scout has so far refused to be drawn into the affair, saying that he cannot get involved in local matters unless there are 'clear breaches of the rules'.

For the parents and Scouts there is more to the issue than the rule book. Bruce Adams, a local Liberal Democrat councillor and a Scout leader for another Maidenhead group, says of the association: 'They are unconcerned about the rights of an individual to a fair hearing . . . Is this the spirit in which Baden-Powell set up the Scout Association?'

But with little hope of the Association changing its mind, the Hammonds can only take consolation from the fifth Scout law. It says: 'A Scout has courage in all difficulties.'

(Photograph omitted)