Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Friday, 7 March 2008

'No tolerance' for RAF staff abuse

By Anthony Bartram
BBC News, Cambridgeshire

A soldier from RAF Wittering walks past a billboard in Wittering Village, Cambridgeshire.
Local people described the reports of abuse as 'disgraceful'

For the 2,000 service men and women based at RAF Wittering, the advice is to keep a low profile in Peterborough.

The base commander, Group Captain Ro Atherton, has ordered that uniforms should not be worn in the city.

It has been described as "a local decision to deal with a local problem".

The incidents were reported to RAF police locally rather than the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, which said it had no record of any problems.

But personnel have reportedly been targeted for verbal abuse while wearing their uniforms in the city while travelling to and from work at the base, near Stamford, and while out shopping.

Local people have described the abuse as "disgraceful", and said it did not reflect the views of the vast majority.

This was demonstrated when a serviceman in army uniform was roundly applauded by shoppers as he walked through the city centre.

Soldier applauded

Joe Winskill, a former RAF serviceman from Peterborough, said: "I don't personally agree with the war but you can't go around discriminating against people in the services.

"You get the fanatics who would put them at risk while they are in uniform but I don't see why they should walk round in civilians when they are military people."

The Ministry of Defence has blamed a "tiny minority" for the abuse from people opposed to the UK's military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If we carry on and say 'don't wear uniforms in town', we're giving in to these people
Garry Hunt
RAF Wittering has around 150 servicemen in Afghanistan, involved in operations to protect Kandahar Airport. In addition, up to 50 more are serving in Iraq.

Garry Hunt, from the Royal British Legion in Peterborough, said he was "saddened", but not surprised by the abuse.

He said: "I would have been very surprised by this 10 years ago, but nowadays I'm not.

"The attitude of certain young people is wrong - they have no respect for people in uniform.

"I think this is an overreaction, it's such a minority causing this trouble.

"If we carry on and say 'don't wear uniforms in town' we're giving in to these people."

Peterborough MP, Stewart Jackson, called for the uniform ban to be reversed, describing the decision as "a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

And Marion Todd, the city's mayor, said: "To come home after serving Queen and country and you're abused in this way is just unacceptable."

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