RAF base embarks on its change of role

First published in Spectator's Notes

SPECTATOR definitely thinks he can do business with Gp Capt Ted Stringer, the latest person in charge of RAF Leeming.

Last Thursday we spent a brief but congenial spell in his company after it responded to his invitation to an overview of the present work of the base and the major changes that lie ahead of it.

The good officer and gentleman seems promisingly media savvy, aided by a capable public relations team, but he professed surprise that his on-the-spot invitation appeared to have been taken up only by the D&S Times, also representing its sister paper The Northern Echo.

Spectator can only suggest that such an indifferent response can be attributed to two factors: the unearthly hour of 8.15am (at least for those journalists who have to travel any distance without any promise of a headline-hogging story the next day) and the time-consuming business of gaining entry to the place, now involving a police-style mug shot as well as details of car registration, postcode and telephone number at a building prosaically described as a reception centre rather than a guardroom. Inevitably, heightened security has turned the base into a local Fort Knox.

The new communications hub, which will support air operations around the globe and has effectively ensured the future of Leeming after the last Tornado squadron departs in 2008, became Spectator's chosen area of study. Leaders of the unit's advance party gave little away other than to indicate that the local population should not expect a proliferation of new radio masts or a clutch of radomes resembling giant golf balls. Heaven forbid.

Price of justice

Justice First is a new charity dealing with the difficult problem of asylum, but it is refreshingly open about its costs, including salaries.

A 14-page brochure put out at its launch at the Stockton Arc set out details of salaries paid to practice manager John Rogers and field worker Kath Sainsbury. Both get the same - £27,627 in the first year. This is due to rise - subject to funding being attracted - to £30,187 in year four.

The Stockton-based charity promises that all gifts will be "most gratefully received and will be personally acknowledged."

The first year's costs has been covered by the family trust of a retired Durham vicar. But subsequent years' costs have yet to be found.

The brochure sets out the charity's strategy for raising funds - including individual donations, legacies and transfer of assets like shares.

It gives a pat on the back to the Government for introducing Gift Aid, which adds an extra 28 per cent to gifts. "This is among the simplest government forms ever devised," says the brochure. Good luck, Justice First .

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