Row over cancellation of farewell party for SAR flight at RAF Lossiemouth

There is reported "rage" at at the decision to cancel an informal off-base farewell party to mark the end of search and rescue operations by 202 Squadron D Flight at RAF Lossiemouth.

202 Squadron Sea King rescue helicopter - photo copyright MoDAccording to media the planned event, after 74 years of armed-forces SAR operations from Moray, was to have been held at an Elgin hostelry in early April.

The RAF said that concerns about election rules were behind the decision to cancel the celebration. The pre-election "purdah" period does start with the dissolution of Parliament on 28th March, but in our opinion there is nothing in the rules to make impossible the holding of an informal farewell party.

The BBC reported criticism of the cancellation by Moray MP Angus Robertson (SNP). It sounded from the report very much as if Mr Robertson, who as local MP has taken a close interest in the Moray service communities, would himself have been invited to the event. Reading between the lines, this might have been the trigger of the RAF SAR command's concerns about the event. By the date of the event, Mr Robertson would no longer have MP status, but he is his party's prospective parliamentary candidate for the constituency. [See update below*]

We trust that a sensible solution will be found so that current and former D Flight personnel and families can, with the local community, mark the end of service SAR operations without a risk of political overtones.

D Flight's responsibilities are being taken over on 1st April by a service operated by Bristow Helicopters for HM Coastguard.

* UPDATE: A later report in The Scotsman (24 March) appears to confirm that aspect:

"A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the event fell into the category known as 'purdah' considered potentially political – as MPs, MSPs and media had been invited – in the run-up to a general election, banning campaigning involving state agencies six weeks prior to the vote.

'He said: 'The SAR Force had concerns regarding the timing and the extensive list of invitees at a proposed public event, leading to a decision being made by the SAR Force to change the format of the event. Work is underway to ascertain if an alternative event can be held on-base for invited guests with a separate event for the families of SAR personnel.'"


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