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Tower of London Beefeaters suspended for bullying

LONDON – Something is rotten — again — at the Tower of London long known for its treachery, bloodshed, and executions.

If the new charges are true, it's time to add bullying to the litany of foul deeds committed at the notorious royal fortress where many were tortured and three English queens were executed centuries ago.

At issue is the alleged bullying of a contemporary trailblazer: Moira Cameron, the first woman to serve as yeoman warder at the Tower, which dates back to the 11th century.

Hers was supposed to be a happy story about how one of the traditional bastions of male supremacy became a place where women, too, could serve queen and country. But it now appears Cameron, 44, was isolated and harassed by resentful male colleagues, despite her long experience in the military.

Embarrassed Tower officials said Monday that two male warders have been suspended and a third is under investigation for suspected harassment of Cameron, who joined the prestigious warders two years ago, integrating what had been an all-male preserve for centuries.

A statement released by the Tower of London said harassment among its staff was "totally unacceptable" and that an internal investigation started last week as soon as the allegations were received.

"We can confirm that three yeoman warders are under investigation in response to allegations of harassment," the Tower statement said. "Two have been suspended. We take such allegations very seriously and our formal harassment policy makes it clear that this is totally unacceptable."

The bullying allegations are an unpleasant wrinkle in what had been a generally popular move to bring women into traditionally male military roles.

The warders, who patrol the fortress on the banks of the River Thames, are popularly known as "Beefeaters," mostly because of the extra rations of meat they were given during medieval times.

Their brightly colored Tudor-style uniforms are part of the picture-postcard London that often enchants visitors from around the world. Cameron's ceremonial, red-and-gold outfit was specially modified to fit her female frame.

Her introduction to the exclusive service went relatively smoothly, as far as the public could discern, but some tensions were present right from the start.

Cameron, with military experience both in Cyprus and Northern Ireland, said when her appointment was announced that some of her colleagues resented her presence.

"I've had some comments," she said at the time. "I had one chap at the gate one day who said he was completely and utterly against me doing the job."

Her reply was quick and piercing: "I said to him, 'I would like to thank you for dismissing my 22 years' service in her majesty's armed forces'."

But she seemed thrilled with her job, telling The Associated Press of the joys of giving historical tours and describing the Tower as a wonderful place to work.

Simmering tensions were kept behind the fortress walls until Monday, when the Sun newspaper reported that Cameron's uniform had been defaced and that "nasty" notes had been left in her locker.

In addition, the newspaper said that Cameron's entry in the online encyclopedia known as Wikipedia had been defaced as part of the campaign against her.

Scotland Yard confirmed Monday that a 56-year-old man had been reprimanded about improper use of the Internet. Details were not disclosed, but it was believed this man is the third warder being investigated for alleged harassment.

Tower spokeswoman Ruth Howlett said she could not confirm the details cited in the newspaper report or elaborate on the reported harassment.

The Tower statement said an internal investigation should be finished within two to three weeks in accordance with the Tower's harassment policy.

The revelations did not appear to bother visitors to the Tower.

"There's always teasing in the army," said Miles Gurrin, a frequent visitor. "The army is known for this sort of thing. It's not as if she is an outsider. She served in the army for 22 years, so she is one of them."

He said the public would probably withhold judgment until the investigation is completed.

The 35 warders — all ex-military personnel — guide visitors around the popular tourist attraction, which houses the priceless crown jewels as well as rare coats of armor and other items of incalculable historic value.

Warders were first used in the 11th century, and early on were used to monitor and occasionally torture high profile prisoners kept in the Tower, which was founded by King William I in 1066. There is a long history of bloodshed and treachery at the Tower, including the executions of three queens: Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, both wives of Henry VIII, and Lady Jane Grey known as "the nine days queen."

The warders and their families live on the Tower grounds so they can be on call both day and night.

Tags: sexism

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