Protesters keeping 24-7 vigil outside RAF Scampton

Stand-off at Dambusters HQ: Protesters keeping 24/7 vigil outside RAF Scampton reveal battle to ‘save Britain’s heritage’ ahead of crunch court battle over plans to use historic airfield to house 2,000 asylum seekers

  • RAF Scampton, in Lincolnshire, was the base for 617 ‘Dambusters’ SquadroN

Protesters who are keeping a constant vigil outside the home of the Dambusters said they are engaged in a battle to ‘save’ Britain’s ‘heritage’ ahead of the Government’s court clash over ministers’ attempts to house 2,000 asylum seekers there.  

RAF Scampton, in Lincolnshire, was the base for 617 Squadron, which in 1943 carried out daring raids on four dams in the heart of Nazi Germany.

The base was also home to the famous Red Arrows display team and the Meteorological Office until it was closed by the Ministry of Defence on March 31 this year.

It was then announced by West Lindsey District Council (WLDC) that a £300m deal to develop the site as a business, aerospace and heritage centre, providing 1,000 jobs and taking special care of the historical Grade II listed Officers’ Mess and Hanger Two.

But days later the Home Office announced it would house 2,000 male asylum seekers, throwing the planned development into jeopardy and risking, it is argued, the destruction or loss of important British heritage buildings and objects.

WLDC have served an Enforcement Notice and a Stop Notice to contractors working on behalf of the Home Office on September 22, but the legal notices are being ignored. 

The Government and WLDC will clash at the Royal Courts of Justice next week after a judge granted permission for a judicial review to take place.  

Speaking to MailOnline last week, protesters camped outside the base vented their fury at the ongoing work.

Protesters who are keeping a constant vigil outside the home of the Dambusters said they are engaged in a battle to ‘save’ Britain’s ‘heritage’ ahead of the Government’s court clash over ministers’ attempts to house 2,000 asylum seekers there. Above: Protestor David Sunderland

Drone photographs taken last week show portacabins at RAF Scampton. They are set to house asylum seekers

Cake maker Sarah Carter, 48, has been camping beside one of the access gates for a month now and has not strayed more than a mile from the base since then.

However, she is going to London on Tuesday along with the council and Scampton Holdings Ltd, the company hoping to develop the site, for a judicial review in the Royal Courts of Justice.

READ MORE: Drone photos show new asylum accommodation centre where up to 2,000 migrants will be housed at historic home of the Dambusters – after local fury at Home Office decision to transform RAF Scampton 

On a rainy day inside her tent Sarah, whose husband Paul, 56, served in the RAF for 22 years, explained why she was fighting the Government.

whose husband Paul, 56, served in the RAF for 22 years, explained why she was fighting the Government.

Accompanied by the regular honking of passing motorists supporting the protestors, Sarah said: ‘We don’t want RAF Scampton turning into an asylum centre, it has too much history behind it and it means a lot to most people who live near here.

‘I’m here because when the Stop Notice went up on the Friday (22 September), it was obvious that work was still going on all over the weekend and the Monday and the order was just being ignored.

‘We are here because the council have asked us to document everything that is going on, taking number plates and photographs etc.

‘We need to hold the Home Office accountable for works they are still doing illegally.

‘Where I am here, Crash Gate 9, I beside the lane that goes to Crash Gate 8, which is where all the HGVs were bringing all the Portakabins. I can log all the companies still entering and still breaking the law.

‘Any information I get goes straight to Scampton Holdings and West Lindsey District Council, for their legal team.

‘When these contractors are doing groundworks, digging and concreting the apron around the runway it is damaging the heritage of the place.’

Cake maker Sarah Carter, 48, has been camping beside one of the access gates for a month now and has not strayed more than a mile from the base since then

Speaking to MailOnline, protesters camped outside the base vented their fury at the ongoing work. Above: A mannequin wearing an RAF uniform, installed outside the base by a protestor along with a sign spelling ‘RAF’, written using fabric poppies

Ms Carter was promised a building in the base to run their cake decorating business and tea room once the council’s planned regeneration started, but that is not going to happen under the Government’s plans.

‘It is all on hold now and my husband was also looking for a job on the site,’ she said, adding that her father-in-law served for 27 years in the RAF and his father manned barrage balloons during WWII.’

She added: ‘There is a strong attachment with RAF Scampton with families around here. Lincolnshire is known as ‘Bomber County’.’

Further up the road, at the main gates to the base, is a larger encampment.

As footballers from Lincoln City practiced on their training ground opposite the padlocked main gates, Chris James, 35, is sitting outside a tent beside a brazier.

Mr James, from Birmingham, who served at RAF Scampton like his father and grandfather, said: ‘We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, rain and shine.

‘This place was suppose to become a place of aero-space excellence and a heritage centre and provide 1,000 jobs and £300m was there ready to be spent, but the next day the Home Office said they were taking Scampton for the asylum seekers.

‘The outrage in the area, you would not believe, and people are coming from all over the country to support our fight.

Darrell Harding, 54, served 27 years in the RAF as a Chinook helicopter crewman before becoming a history teacher in a secondary school in Lincoln

Cake maker Sarah Carter, 48, has been camping beside one of the access gates for a month now and has not strayed more than a mile from the base since then

Protest signs are seen outside RAF Scampton, calling on the plans to halted 

The protestors’ encampment is seen outside RAF Scampton, which is set to house asylum seekers

The 617 Squadron – the Dambusters – was formed at the airfield, from where 19 Lancaster bombers departed for the famous raid in 1943 to destroy three dams in the Ruhr valley. Pictured: 617 Squadron led by 24-year old Wing Commander Guy Gibson (in aircraft door)

‘It’s disgusting what is happening here. This base is part of Britain’s history and heritage and out children should be able to learn about it, and it should be turned into a museum and a place of learning, not an asylum seekers centre.

‘When I was station here there were 2,800 service personnel living and working within the base, now I’m living in a tent to try and save our Scampton.’

His tent tent is full of food, drink, heating equipment and other provisions donated by local people.

The Officers Mess is a heritage building and Hanger Two is Grade II listed. I doubt the asylum seekers will appreciate or respect any of that history.

‘We are concerned about all the buildings.’

Another protestor, who did not wish to be identified, said: ‘It is not that they are asylum seekers, we don’t want anybody on this base, unless is was to house our own homeless veterans, who would respect the site.’

David Sunderland, 64, had travelled from Leeds, West Yorkshire, to join the protestors on the main gate.

Retired Nuffield Hospital staff nurse Mr Sunderland said: ‘I have family who served in the RAF, in Afghanistan and The Falklands, and this place is all about our heritage and culture.

‘We think this base could be better used for housing or veterans rather than asylum seekers.

‘It would be better suited to be a museum and educational site, but the Government don’t want that.

‘RAF Scampton is steeped in history and was key in defeating Nazi Germany in the Second World War – that should never be forgotten.

‘This is the home of the Dambusters and is well known all over the world.

‘The people moving in will not be aware or care about that history and most won’t speak English anyway, we’ve been told the base will be also accommodating four translators.’

He added: ‘Four weeks ago a group of us did canvassing around Scampton village and 95 per cent of the residents did not want asylum seekers housed here because they are worried about what might happen.

‘This place is remote and the asylum seekers will have nothing to do.’

Mr Sunderland said their pickets at the gate had been successful, in that a number of lorries, including the Royal Mail, refused to enter the base.

‘One gentleman was using a torch at night to see the registration plate of a vehicle so we could log it and inform the council, as they have asked us to do, and he was arrested.’

Enjoying a pint in the Dambusters Inn, in the village of Scampton, was Darrell Harding, 54, who served 27 years in the RAF as a Chinook helicopter crewman before becoming a history teacher in a secondary school in Lincoln.

Surrounded by Dambusters and Red Arrows memorabilia, covering every surface of the pub, Darrell said: ‘The situation in appalling. It is wrong for so many reasons.

‘It is wrong because its inhumane putting 2,000 people in the middle of nowhere, in portacabins with the bad weather coming.

‘It is wrong because they are going to be a couple of hundreds yards away from a community that still has serving RAF personal.

‘Some have done the right thing and bought their own homes, and they are worried because nobody knows what is going to happen.

Protestors have set up camp directly outside the base and are hoping the Government will be forced to backtrack on its proposals

The Dambusters Inn serves locals who are upset about the proposals for RAF Scampton

The pub is filled with memorabilia dedicated to the memory of the Dambusters

‘It is wrong because Scampton Holdings had secured a £300m investment. 

‘They were speaking to the university for some high-tech stuff, there were plans for small modular units for businesses.

‘Because the runway is one of the longest runways in the country which is still operational, the RAF only stopped using it six months ago, so the UK Space Agency was interested in doing something.

‘The heritage is another reason for it being wrong. Everybody in the air force and beyond knows about 617 Squadron and the Dambusters.

‘The hanger is Grade II Listed and the Officers’ Mess room has just been listed. The Officers’ Mess was going to be gutted and turned into a hotel, with a heritage slant to it.

‘Hanger Two, which has Guy Gibson’s office in it, was going to be turned into a heritage centre and there were going to be displays in there and a cafe.

‘There was going to be a viewing area because the RAF had said the Red Arrows would still use Scampton to practice – that has all gone now.

‘Scampton Holdings have said that if the Home Office and leave the runway intact then they can still save this £300m scheme, but the Home Office have said the asylum seekers will be there for three-to-four years.’

In 2018 the Ministry of Defence announced the closure of RAF Scampton and the relocation of the Red Arrows to RAF Waddington as part of this closure. 

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) were instructed to close the site and facilitate its sale during the first half of 2023.

A council spokesman said: ‘West Lindsey District Council worked with the DIO, Lincolnshire County Council and Scampton Parish Council (alongside other organisations) to ensure the best possible outcomes for the Scampton site and its future positioning within the wider district and county economy.’

A high court date has now been confirmed for West Lindsey District Council’s judicial review on October 31 and November 1.

Councillor Trevor Young, Leader of West Lindsey District Council, emphasised the point that it is an offence to fail to comply with a Stop Notice. He said:

The former RAF base is seen in a new drone picture taken last week

‘From the moment the decision to use RAF Scampton as an asylum accommodation centre was made, the Council have been clear that this is not an appropriate site for this purpose.

‘Use of the Site for asylum accommodation puts at risk the £300million investment proposal.

‘It is incredibly disappointing that despite repeated assurances that the site would be safe, legal and compliant, the Home Office has failed to secure appropriate planning permission or to adequately assess the impact of their proposals.

‘It is an offence to contravene the Stop Notice and I urge the Home Office to cease all works in line with this legal action.’

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘Delivering accommodation on surplus military sites provides more orderly, suitable accommodation for those arriving in small boats whilst helping to reduce the use of hotels.

‘We are confident our project, which will house asylum seekers in basic, safe and secure accommodation, meets the planning requirements.

‘The Home Office has made it clear from the outset of this project that it recognises its responsibilities to take appropriate steps to ensure that the heritage assets at RAF Scampton are protected and preserved, and security and operational management plans will be put in place to support this.’

The Dambusters: How bouncing bombs flooded the Ruhr and delivered a crucial blow to Hitler

On May 16, 1943, 19 Lancaster bomber crews gathered at a remote RAF station in Lincolnshire for a mission of extraordinary daring – a night-time raid on three heavily defended dams deep in Germany’s industrial heartland.

The dams were heavily fortified and needed the innovative bomb – which bounced on the water over torpedo nets and sank before detonating.

To succeed, the raiders would have to fly across occupied Europe under heavy fire and then drop their bombs with awesome precision from a mere 60ft above the water. 

The Mohne and Eder Dams in the industrial heart of Germany were attacked and breached by mines dropped from specially modified Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron.

A Lancaster Bomber on a commemorative flight in 1967 to mark the anniversary of the Dambusters raid that breached the Mohne and Eder dams

The Sorpe dam was was also attacked by two aircraft and damaged.

A fourth dam, the Ennepe was reported as being attacked by a single aircraft (O-Orange), but with no damage.

Up to 1,600 people were estimated to have been killed by floodwaters and eight of the 19 aircraft dispatched failed to return with the loss of 53 aircrew and three taken prisoner of war.

Wg Cdr Guy Gibson, Officer Commanding No. 617 Sqn, is awarded the VC for his part in leading the attack.

The raid, orchestrated by Guy Gibson and the RAF’s 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron, was seen as a major victory for the British, and Wing Commander Gibson is recognised as one of the war’s most revered heroes.

Their success was immortalised in the classic 1955 film The Dambusters, its thrilling theme tune and gung-ho script evoking the best of British derring-do.

Wg Cdr Gibson was killed at the age of 26 when his Mosquito plane crashed during a night-time sortie over Germany.  

Source: Read Full Article