Commissioned in April by the former Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson in response to repeated instances of inappropriate and allegedly, unlawful behaviour by serving members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, publication of findings by the incoming Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston are extremely welcome.
This is an honest and very open assessment by Air Chief Marshal Wigston of important and very relevant issues that have been ignored by the Ministry of Defence for far too long. The review which has been conducted privately and completed within four months together with the subsequent recommendations made expose a number of unsurprising attitude myths that have been allowed to prevail for far too long without subsequent action.
The report highlights that armed forces personnel have lived in fear of making allegations more a number of different reasons not least of which because in doing so they might be considered trouble makers and that this could ultimately have an adverse impact on their career prospects.
Bullying, harassment together with allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment within the military establishment have been increasing over the years and it has taken far too long for the Ministry of Defence to properly respond. The military and those that serve within it will be a better place for this important review.
When fully implemented, recommendations made by Air Chief Marshal Wigston in this report will provide members of our armed forces with the surety, knowledge and confidence that they can now come forward and report allegations of wrongdoing without fear or favour and that in doing so they will have the full understanding and support from the Ministry of Defence.
The report confirmed not only that “an unacceptable level of inappropriate behaviour persists” within the military but also that “a significant number of our people have experienced bullying, discrimination and harassment, including sexual and [that they] have not felt or been able to come forward to report it”.
The armed forces were also found to be lagging behind wider society in dealing with issues associated with the ‘me-too’ movement, while the use of language within the military “can be inappropriate and offensive, simply through the lack of understanding of how it may be perceived by a minority group”.
It said a “new generation” of armed forces personnel, including a greater proportion of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, women and other “underrepresented groups”, had “grown up in a more open and permissive society” than their forebears” and yet “those people now often find themselves “led by a cohort described by one external organisation as a ‘pack mentality of white middle-aged men, especially those in positions of influence’ whose behaviours are shaped by the Armed Forces of 20 years ago”.
While the report rightly concludes that good behaviour across the Armed Forces was still to be considered the norm and that the “great majority of service men and women go above and beyond what their duty demands of them, it does not hide from accepting that unacceptable levels of behaviour continue to persist.
It is pleasing that in response to the Wigston Report the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt. Hon Penny Mordaunt has already announced various measures that she hopes will address the inappropriate behaviour issue. These include a full overhaul of the complaints system procedures together with creation of a new training regime all of which are aimed at implementing a complete culture change.
In direct response I understand that the MOD is also proposing to set up a ‘Defence Authority’ that will deal with the delivery of recommendations made by the report including investigation of allegations and how this is done. Importantly, the Defence Authority will also offer new routes to anonymously reporting of inappropriate behaviour by armed forces personnel through the creation of a proposed new hotline which I understand comprises of a phone-based app and website forms.
Whether the above will be considered enough and as a potentially secure way to anonymously report allegations of misconduct remains to be seen but it is welcome none the less.
CHW (London – 16th July 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785