Cambridgeshire

MoD told of Bassingbourn Libyan cadet 'risks' in advance

Bassingbourn Barracks
Image caption About 300 Libyan recruits arrived for training at the barracks in June

The government was warned of "significant immigration, security and reputational risks to the UK" of allowing Libyan soldiers on visits off a Cambridgeshire base, it has emerged.

More than 300 cadets arrived at Bassingbourn Barracks in June.

They were sent home in November after five were charged with sexual assaults.

Documents obtained by the BBC reveal the MoD was warned of the risk of allowing the cadets to leave the camp for "recreational visits".

Up to 2,000 soldiers had been due to undergo basic infantry and junior command training at the barracks under an agreement reached at last year's G8 summit to support the Libyan government's efforts to improve the security and stability of the country.

'Risk to morale'

However, the first group returned home two weeks early after their five colleagues were charged with sexual assaults on women and raping a man in Cambridge in October.

Image caption The Libyan troops were the first of 2,000 to be trained at the barracks near Cambridge

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) admitted its rules that cadets should only be allowed outside the camp on supervised trips had been relaxed.

Through a Freedom of Information Act (FoI) request to the MoD, the BBC has learnt a security and risk assessment document produced prior to the solders' arrival warned of the potential danger of allowing unsupervised visits.

The report by the Cross-Whitehall Libya Security Compact Delivery Group said: "Outward recreational visits pose significant immigration, security and reputational risks to the UK."

However, it also said it was "unrealistic and a risk to morale and discipline to confine persons to camp" for the duration of their 24-week training.

In addition to the five cadets facing sexual assault charges, the MoD said it was aware of three occasions in August when small groups of cadets were seen outside the camp "attempting to purchase alcohol". All were returned to the base.

Image copyright Terry Harris
Image caption Troops were sent home early after five were charged with sexual offences in Cambridge
Image caption The MoD had given assurances they would not be allowed off the base unescorted

The pre-training security report pointed to "widespread" sexual violence during the period of conflict in Libya, and added there was "some evidence that it is a significant domestic problem which could be reinforced by cultural attitudes and entrenched by a lack of justice for those affected and for perpetrators".

'Bad behaviour'

Before arriving in the UK, all cadets were subjected to a "three-stage vetting process including screening by the Libyan Integrity Commission, further screening by UK officials and the standard UK visa application process", the report said.

"However, full background information on trainees is unlikely to have been available to [the] UK or used by the Libyans in respective vetting processes."

The report went on to say: "The risk of bad behaviour of trainees outside Bassingbourn Camp is mitigated by the provisions of their visas, the supervisory measures in place for limited excursions and the security arrangements between the MoD, police and [the] Home Office."

Image caption A review is currently taking place of the training programme at the barracks

Despite concerns about recruiting a balanced ethnic mix of cadets and their future once back home in Libya, the report's writers concluded: "There is a much larger risk of not going ahead with training.

"The prime minister has signed up to the General Purpose Force initiative. This commitment was made almost one year ago. The reputational risks for the UK proceeding with training are assessed as much lower than not doing so."

A spokesman for the MoD said: "We have been clear that the behaviour of a small number of the Libyan trainees was completely unacceptable and had a serious impact on members of the local community.

"Following the conclusion of the training the prime minister tasked the MoD with producing a report on the programme at Bassingbourn, including disciplinary issues."

Parliament was likely to be informed of the results of the report in the new year, he added.

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