Soldiers sex scandal would ‘inflict a considerable cost’: Defence Secretary

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Sex scandals involving teenage girls prompted a ban on revealing incidents of underage sex at military bases

The sex misconduct crisis affecting the UK’s Armed Forces “would end recruitment” and “inflict a considerable financial cost” to military chiefs, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said.

The Defence Secretary met chiefs to discuss proposals to stem the drop in people joining.

The government has started the process of scrapping the automatic 15-year vetting on military staff.

Private Bradley Manning , who leaked thousands of secret US files to WikiLeaks, was also named in a Channel 4 investigation as having groped female Marines and taken illicit pictures of another female soldier.

President Trump has also criticised the UK for its treatment of refugees, saying that it was a “shameful” waste of money.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Private Manning, pictured left on an arrest mugshot, has been released from prison

Mr Williamson said during his visit to the RAF that the government must “fix” the problem to continue to attract the best to the military, meaning he was looking to scrap the 15-year vetting.

He told the BBC: “We are going to be talking to all the Chiefs in the military about exactly what we can do to lift the integrity that the system has.

“How do we maintain the future intake? If the overall process was improved, would it actually in fact recruit people?

“And if you think about the home counties, how do we get people to join the military and live in the UK and have the community service and the military pensions that are attractive to those people?”

Military chiefs will meet in Birmingham next month for their annual conference.

In an indication of the challenges facing the defence chiefs, a senior Ministry of Defence official briefed journalists about Mr Williamson’s remarks before he gave them to BBC Newsnight, prompting MPs to question the need for a media briefing.

Mr Williamson also said Britain should not be deterred from pursuing international development projects, following concerns that aid spending could be used to boost the defence budget, as promised by Mr Trump.

But, speaking to Sky News, Mr Williamson said the US president had “concerns” about the amount of aid money the UK was spending and said that he too would “like to see more support for our home country and the UK economy”.

One former soldier said his advice to any 15-year-old would be to not join the military.

He told Sky News: “As a father, I would not urge my son to sign up to the army.”

Mr Williamson said there was no need to ban revealing incidents of underage sex at military bases, because the Defence Secretary has told forces chiefs not to disclose confidential cases.

A scandal involving underage sex on a Territorial Army base was highlighted in a TV documentary.

In a leaked email in November, the Ministry of Defence told troops not to discuss issues relating to sexual misconduct “even with loved ones” after a history student reported being raped in 2014 by two servicemen in their early 20s.

Sir David Richards, the former chief of the defence staff, said he had talked to members of the RAF about how to improve recruitment.

He told BBC Newsnight that as a career, joining a military is not a “nice gig”.

“We got in on the wrong foot,” he said. “I think it is going to continue to affect recruiting and retention and the SAS, which is a relatively specialised unit, needs all the help it can get to recruit junior people who will do two-year tours [of duty] if the need arises.”

Sir David added: “I am not a fan of sexuality education but if that is the thing that we are going to do as a service, that is a hard thing to do to our operational ethos.”

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