'We're staying put', say air base chiefs

US air force chiefs have denied they are withdrawing from a major Suffolk base despite evidence they have sent their nuclear bombs home.

Will Clarke

US air force chiefs have denied they are withdrawing from a major Suffolk base despite evidence they have sent their nuclear bombs home.

The suggestion that RAF Lakenheath - worth more than £400million to the local economy - might be scaled down was made by an American weapons expert, who also claimed the base no longer housed nuclear weapons.

But yesterday RAF Lakenheath said it would be staying put and that it was “business as usual”.

It said it “could neither confirm or deny” the presence of nuclear weapons but dismissed the findings of military analyst Hans Kristensen.

The spokesman said: “Despite recent sensational reporting to the contrary there have been no discussions, on closing RAF Lakenheath, or the US presence leaving here, to our knowledge. We are continuing business as usual.”

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The fears had been stoked by weapons and military expert Mr Kristensen, who said he had evidence that there were now no nuclear bombs at the base.

Mr Kristensen claimed he had been passed documents showing formal nuclear security checks at Lakenheath were “no longer applicable”.

He went on to say the move was part of a wider strategy to scale Lakenheath down in favour of Mediterranean bases.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) confirmed Mr Kristensen's findings and welcomed news that the base's 101 nuclear devices had been withdrawn.

A CND spokesman said: “The removal follows years of campaigning by CND and the local Lakenheath Action Group against the deployment of freefall nuclear bombs at the base.

“US nuclear weapons were removed from Greece in 2001 and opposition across Europe is growing - in 2005 the Belgian Senate demanded the removal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, whilst only last week Germany's Social Democrats demanded the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from German bases.”

Local people and councillors have voiced concerns about the prospect of the US air force withdrawing from Lakenheath.

Bruce Rutterford, a local printer and former councillor, said: “If they were to withdraw it would have a huge impact on the local economy.

“CND say they are pleased to see the weapons go but the Americans have been here since 1948 and they have spent a lot of money. We would need something to replace them.”

Keith McDonald, Lakenheath sub-post master, said the biggest impact would be felt in the housing market.

“It could devastate a lot of people,” he said. “Many homes are rented out to Americans so there would be so many homes on the market prices would crash.”

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