Air Cadet group suspended over dispute between its organisers

Thurston ATC closed suddenly this week
Thurston ATC closed suddenly this week
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A well-regarded and strongly supported cadets group was suspended yesterday and could be headed for closure.

Parents of Thurston cadets received notification of the decision to suspend activity of the 863 Squadron on Monday, with the group due to meet for the last time last night.

In a letter to parents, Air Commodore Dawn McCafferty said the suspension followed her ‘inability to reconcile the views and behaviours of some uniformed staff and volunteers with those of some members of the civilian committee’. There has been an ongoing dispute since 2011.

She added that the resignation of several officers meant she could not assure ‘the safety of cadets and delivery of the full scope of cadet activity’.

She said two criteria must be met before reactivating the squadron could be considered. “The first is that a suitable commissioned volunteer is selected and trained to assume command of the squadron.

“The second is for there to be demonstrable evidence of improved working relationships between the civilian committee and the uniformed cadre at all levels. If these criteria cannot be met, consideration will be given to closing the squadron.”

As new cadets, Kelly Price said her two children Rhys, 13, and Courteney, 14, were ‘absolutely distraught’ and had been in tears.

She added: “These kids that have joined, some of them are at the end of school and are very high up. In theory, they could be the future of the RAF and they’re going to disband it because of a dispute with several of the committee?”

Former civilian committee chairman of 12 years, Neil Paxman, said the suspension was an ‘absolutely disgraceful situation’.

Current chairman Doug Levey said: “It’s a family and with any family you have difficulties at times and you deal with them but the impression is the cadets, our squadron and our children are being made to suffer because of wider issues and it’s totally unnecessary.”

He said not having a commissioned officer was no reason to suspend a squadron and compared it to closing a school when a headteacher took a leave of absence.

An Air Cadets spokesman said: “Whilst the ACO (Air Cadet Organisation) sometimes allows squadrons to operate without the appointment of a commissioned officer this is done only in exceptional circumstances, usually for a defined limited period and only when the chain of command are confident that the squadron can continue to operate safely.

“Given the ongoing disputes at 863 (Thurston) Squadron and the reasons stated by the current cadre of commissioned officer for their resignation, it is not felt that the well-being of staff and supervision of cadets can be guaranteed to an acceptable level with the personnel who currently remain at the Squadron.”

The Thurston Squadron Civilian Committee was suspended from last summer to February this year, which the Air Cadet Organisation has now recognised as unconstitutional.

A spokesman said: “Air Cadet Organisation regulations refer to dismissal but not suspension. The decision to suspend the committee was taken as a pragmatic step, short of dismissal, while efforts to resolve the dispute were pursued.

“Subsequently, following discussion with the Charity Commission it has been identified that the regulations relating to Civilian Committees require revision. A full review of the regulations is currently underway and we are working with the Charity Commission to ensure that the new regulations are appropriate and fully compliant with charity law.”

Thurston cadets have been invited to attend other local squadrons.

Reaction from Facebook:

Lou Harcombe: Even though we haven’t been here long I already started to feel like part of the family and was heart breaking to see how much it’s affected people.

Jake Hayes: I am really angry and sad about all this at the moment.

Hannah Smith: Very sad evening, worst part was seeing cadets crying and very very upset!

Sandra Tutthill: I for one have a son who has been deeply affected by tonight’s news.