Dismay as Moray public denied opportunity to thank heroic rescuers

Sea King – farewell to be taken ‘on base’

There was confusion last night over why an Elgin farewell party for Sea King crews being disbanded from RAF Lossiemouth was cancelled.

As protests grew over orders that 202 Squadron personnel had to cancel a party in Elgin’s Drouthy Cobbler next week, including a petition that had reached almost 1500 signatures, the RAF were insisting that they had only been concerned about the “level of interest” being shown in the party.

However, there were conflicting messages that also indicated the RAF had halted the party because it conflicted with ‘Purdah’, a period in the build up to the general election during which civil servants were restricted in what they discussed.

The ‘D’ Flight detachment from 202 Squadron will, along with all RAF and Royal Navy Sea Kings, be withdrawn from service next week. The party had been planned by Lossiemouth personnel as a thank you to people in Moray for their support.

There was a storm of protest when former RAF mountain rescue team leader David Whalley revealed in a blog that the party had been halted because ‘D’ Flight “had been ordered to cancel the event”.

Mr Whalley said: “There is a lot of good people upset – and not just in Moray, from all over the Highlands. The military upsets a few people but they are great here – everybody loves the SAR crews.

“They are fantastic for what they do but somebody made the decision high up here and they want them to skulk away quietly.”

Joining the protest last night was Moray MP Angus Robertson, who said: “This apparent order from the chain of command adds insult to the injury caused by a widely opposed privatisation of this vital service.

“There is massive respect from the public in Moray and right across Scotland for the RAF and especially for D Flight, with the familiar yellow Sea King regularly seen in the air heading to challenging rescues in the North Sea, in the Cairngorms and further afield.

“It is crass and inexplicable to prevent this being marked and the gratitude we share being properly expressed.”

An RAF Spokesman insisted that there was no choice but to cancel the event, saying: “The SAR Force had concerns regarding the timing and the extensive list of invitees at the proposed public event, leading to a decision being made by the SAR Force to change the format of the event.

“Work is under way to ascertain if an alternative event can be held on-base for invited guests with a separate event for the families of SAR personnel.”

Last night one insideMoray reader, who did not wish to be named, said that she had contacted the RAF over the cancellation and been told that any event organised would now be on-base and invitation only.

She said: “I wrote back to them pointing out how unfair that was as it prevented the Moray public from thanking the crews if it was to be held as a private function on the base. Surely the public have a right to express our gratitude to the crews who have kept us safe over all those years?”

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