§ 33. Mr. Chetwynd
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he will make a statement about the recent court of inquiry at Wahnerheide.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) for bringing to my notice last November allegations of irregularities at the Royal Air Force Detention Unit, Wahnerheide. Exhaustive inquiries were put in hand at 1344 once. As a result, disciplinary action has been taken against two officers; while seven non-commissioned officers have been convicted by court-martial.
After considering the findings of the court of inquiry set up by the Commander-in-Chief, Second Tactical Air Force, to examine the administration of the unit, we have decided to make several changes there. The proportion of senior non-commissioned officers has been increased and the staff chosen from older men with previous experience of this type of work. Arrangements have also been made to ensure closer supervision of the unit. My noble Friend considers that these measures should prevent any recurrence of these unfortunate incidents.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Is the Minister aware that the events which took place at this detention barracks were a real shock to the public and did great harm to the good name of the Royal Air Force? Can he give a complete assurance that this is not likely to take place again? Was not the real trouble the lack of supervision, and can he say what punishments were awarded to the officers in charge?
Certainly we realise that these incidents were most unfortunate and did shock the public. We have done all we possibly could to bring those responsible to justice and to take every step to prevent a recurrence. The various sentences awarded to those convicted by court-martial I would rather send to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Foot
Whilst thanking the Minister for the action he took in this case, may I ask if he does not think it would be proper to say a word of tribute to the aircraftman who took his courage in both hands and was responsible for revealing the whole of this appalling business, particularly in view of some reflections cast on him in the court-martial proceedings? Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that sufficient action has been taken against the officers who were not on trial but who were really partially responsible for this horrible business?
On the first part of the supplementary question, of course we are very glad that this matter was brought to light. On the second part, there is no evidence whatever to warrant court-martial proceedings being taken against the two officers concerned. None of 1345 the prisoners who gave evidence against the N.C.Os. indicated that the commandant or any other officer was conniving at the ill treatment, but disciplinary action has been taken against them because they were responsible for administration.
§ Mr. Foot
I think I did send evidence to the hon. Gentleman which does indicate that some of the officers were aware of some of the treatment meted out in the detention camp; has he that evidence? Would the hon. Gentleman also go a little further in paying tribute to the man who went into the detention camp and gained the evidence which exposed this horrible business as, if it were not for his courage, nothing would have been known about it? Surely a better tribute should be paid to him for the work he did for the whole of the Royal Air Force?
Certainly, but I think it is a pity that no complaint was made earlier when he was in the unit. There were regular visits made by medical officers, chaplains and so on, but no complaint was made until he had left the unit, although it might have been possible to stop it earlier.
The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that this aircraftman rendered a public service by doing what he did?