Cambridgeshire

Bassingbourn Libyan cadets 'drunk, aggressive and unsupervised' - councillor

Bassingbourn Barracks
Image caption The MoD had given assurances cadets would not be allowed off the base unescorted

Large numbers of Libyan soldiers were regularly seen "drunk and aggressive... with no obvious supervision" in Cambridge, a councillor has said.

More than 300 cadets arrived at Bassingbourn Barracks in June but were sent home early in November after five were charged with sexual offences.

The MoD had initially said unsupervised visits would not be allowed.

City councillor Ann Sinnott has backed calls for an independent inquiry into discipline at the barracks.

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.

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

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

Three of the men are charged with sexually assaulting women in the city on 26 October and two men are charged with raping a man on the same day.

'Noise and disorder'

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

A report into the breakdown in discipline at the barracks, published for the Ministry of Defence on 9 January, found the policy of restricting the cadets to base had not prevented "breakouts" but said "little could have been done to avert what happened, other than by introducing a security regime that would have been so severe that it would have rendered the programme unfeasible".

However, local councillors, including the leader of the city council Lewis Herbert and Petersfield Ward representative Ms Sinnott, have called for an "independent inquiry" into issues at the barracks.

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

Ms Sinnott spoke to shop and restaurant owners in the Mill Road area of Cambridge who reported groups of "50 to 60 at a time... which inevitably generated loud noise and some disorder".

"It emerged the soldiers visited Mill Road every Friday, on an 8pm curfew, to attend prayers at Petersfield mosques. Many apparently did not attend prayers and many over-stayed the curfew," she said.

"From a trading perspective, the soldiers, who spent copious amounts, brought great benefit."

However, she said others told her some were "aggressive".

'Catastrophic failure'

"All said many soldiers drank heavily and became extremely drunk," Ms Sinnott said.

"There was never any obvious supervision... on Mill Road visits.

"Without doubt, the MoD let Cambridge residents down and placed them in great danger. Events in Cambridge were a catastrophic MoD failure.

"By not preparing them for a very different society, the MoD also failed the Libyan soldiers.

"The residents of Cambridge and their council are entitled to an explanation," she added.

Image copyright Terry Harris
Image caption Troops were sent home early after five were charged with sexual offences in Cambridge

The MoD has already said it "condemns the incidents that took place in Cambridge and Bassingbourn" and accepted communication with local residents could have been better.

However, a spokesman said the department "would not comment on individual instances".

A meeting between councillors and army representatives is scheduled for 10 February.

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