Discharged RAF woman was bullied, inquest told — (The Guardian)

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The Guardian

Steven Morris

Wednesday April 25, 2007

An RAF servicewoman turned into a “wreck of a girl” after she was bullied and sexually harassed, an inquest heard yesterday.

Senior aircraftwoman Angela Hutton, 23, was labelled “an idiot” and “a broken toy” because she struggled to cope with the pressures of her job, the hearing at Salisbury was told. After being discharged, Ms Hutton was found in a fume-filled car on the driveway of her parents’ home. Neighbours pulled her out but she could not be saved.

Mrs. Hutton joined the RAF aged 18 and struggled through her basic training. But her mother Carol said she became depressed when she failed to “fit in” after being posted to two RAF bases, Cranwell and Digby in Lincolnshire, as a medical assistant.

Her mother said she felt she was not trusted by her superiors and complained she was working in a “goldfish bowl” because they monitored her so closely. She also said Ms Hutton was bullied because of her poor performance and claimed on one occasion a superior said to her: “Let’s see what the idiot has done today.”

She also claimed her daughter was sexually harassed at both bases, with remarks made about her the size of her bottom and comments about her sexual partners. “Male colleagues joked that if they were working with Angie they would give her a good shagging,” she said.

“She felt that she didn’t fit in. If your face didn’t fit on camp you found it hard. It was very cliquey.”

She was sent to a psychiatrist. But Mrs Hutton, 58, said her daughter was treated in the same place where she worked and colleagues were even consulted on her progress, which she found “very embarrassing.

“On another occasion she found her own medical notes open on a photocopier for anyone to read and she was very upset. She was making more and more mistakes. Even when she was moved to RAF Digby the first thing her superior officer said to her was ‘I get all the broken toys sent to me.'”

Mrs Hutton said her daughter began drinking heavily, using it as a “prop” so she would have the confidence to socialise with colleagues.

In 2002 she was given a discharge on the basis that she was “temperamentally unsuited to service life”. Mrs Hutton said that her daughter went into a downward spiral, attempting suicide by overdosing on anti-depression medication and losing interest in work and life around her.

Mrs Hutton and her husband John took her home to live with them in Dinton, near Salisbury.

Her mother said: “She felt abandoned. No one was keeping an eye on her, she just got left. It was like they waved her out the door and just said: ‘Off you go.’

“Angie was almost unrecognisable – this was a wreck of a girl. It is very difficult when your child comes to you saying she wants to die in her bed, to take some pills and asks you if you will sit with her.”

In August 2003 Ms Hutton was found dead in her blue Rover.

A military board of inquiry found that the RAF failed to monitor her depressive illness after she first left her barracks at RAF Digby on sick leave. The medical services started to lose touch with her and she received little help between then and her death.

The board of inquiry report recommended an overhaul of the monitoring of service personnel on long-term sick leave and retraining of some staff at RAF Digby. But it decided Ms Hutton had not been bullied and sexually harassed.

The inquest heard from Wing Commander Stephanie Johnston, now retired, who had headed Ms Hutton’s final base at RAF Digby. She said she was “quite shocked” at some of the claims made.

She described Ms Hutton as a “pretty lassie” who was always seen out with a group of friends or her boyfriend.

“When she was discharged, her manager said it was as if a great big weight had been lifted off her shoulders because she had been removed from the work she was struggling with and could not do as well as she herself would have wanted to.” The inquest continues.