Future for Boulmer Clouded in Mystery; Industrial Espionage Claim at MoD

Article excerpt

Byline: William Green

THE future of the region's search and rescue helicopters was last night clouded in mystery amid claims of industrial espionage.

Defence Minister Peter Luff was yesterday unable to answer questions from Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith in the Commons on the pounds 7bn privatisation of the country's search and rescue helicopters.

Liberal Democrat Sir Alan asked when a decision would be made following reports that a Ministry of Defence official had been passing sensitive information to the winning bidder.

Mr Luff said the investigation was "ongoing" and there was nothing more he could say at this stage.

The news comes in the wake of fears that the around-the-clock service at RAF Boulmer, in Northumberland, will be slashed, with fewer search and rescue helicopters in operation.

A French-United States consortium is the preferred bidder to take over responsibility from the RAF. The contract worth around pounds 7bn would see Sea King helicopters replaced by American Sikorskys.

Speaking to The Journal, Sir Alan said: "It has caused a very serious hold-up in planning the future of search and rescue in our area. …