Libyan Bassingbourn cadets 'not in prison camp', army chief says

General Sir Nicholas Carter Image copyright Crown Copyright
Image caption General Sir Nicholas Carter appeared before the Commons Defence Select Committee earlier

Discipline was "extraordinarily difficult" at a base where Libyan cadets trained but it is "not a prison camp", the army's head has said.

Up to 300 Libyan recruits are returning home from Bassingbourn Barracks in Cambridgeshire after five cadets were accused of sex crimes.

Gen Sir Nicholas Carter told MPs the attacks were "absolutely regrettable".

The Ministry of Defence confirmed some recruits left the UK earlier and the others will go in the "coming days".

It said rules on cadets' movements outside the barracks had been tightened as a result of the attacks, following the recruits' arrival in June.

They came to the UK as part of a government agreement to train up to 2,000 cadets to ensure Libya's security.

At the time the MoD said they would only be allowed on escorted trips from the barracks, but for a period these rules were relaxed, allowing them to go into Cambridge alone.

'Beyond the pale'

Of the five cadets accused of the sex assaults, two have admitted offences against women and are due to be sentenced.

Two other cadets are accused of raping a man and will appear at Cambridge Crown Court next week.

Two have admitted the offences and await sentencing. The third has not yet entered a plea.

Image caption Libyan troops would only be allowed out on escorted trips, the MoD initially told nearby residents

Appearing before the Commons Defence Select Committee, the Chief of the General Staff, Gen Carter said: "I absolutely agree with you that those who have gone off and are alleged to have done what they have done is completely beyond the pale.

"The Bassingbourn site is not a prison camp. It is extraordinarily difficult to control it, in that sense."

He said efforts were made to motivate the cadets and ensure their focus was "entirely on training".

"Indeed, we have run an extremely tough walking-out policy in conjunction with the Home Office who have helped in all of this, and the upshot of it is that it's absolutely regrettable that this has occurred."

'No asylum'

It is understood a small number of recruits had left the base and were seeking asylum.

Image caption About 300 recruits arrived at the barracks in June

Earlier, the Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs no Libyan soldiers training in Cambridgeshire should be granted asylum in the UK.

Gen Carter said he was aware some soldiers had reportedly sought asylum.

Asked if thought that was appropriate, he replied: "No, probably not."

However, he said he understood that for some cadets, "seeing their country in the state it is now... has been quite destabilising".

An MoD spokesman said: "The majority of recruits have responded positively to the training despite the ongoing political uncertainty in Libya, but there have been disciplinary issues, some of which have affected the local community which is completely unacceptable and a matter of regret.

"Training was initially expected to last until the end of November but we have agreed with the Libyan Government that it is best for all involved to bring forward the training completion date.

"The Ministry of Defence will be reviewing all aspects of the training programme at Bassingbourn including disciplinary issues. This will inform National Security Council decisions about future training programmes for the Libyan security forces."

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