This week’s main security and defence news has been that additional armed police are to be deployed in London as a contingency against terrorist incidents. The Evening Standard reports that the first of 600 armed officers began to be deployed at visible locations this week. The deployment programme, Operation Hercules, was launched by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. The Met has said the public will see more armed officers, working alongside their neighbourhood and specialist colleagues, on proactive operations and targeted patrols, both on foot and in vehicles, across London.
Both the Mayor and the Commissioner have urged the public “not to be alarmed” when seeing armed officers on the capital's streets, assuring that they are there to “reassure and protect” Londoners. Sir Bernard said: “Anyone who's been following events in Europe over the past few weeks will understand why we want to show our determination to protect the public. We are deadly serious about the protection that we are offering the people of London and we will never be complacent.” Mr Khan added: “The safety and security of all Londoners is my first priority, and our police and security services is working incredibly hard every day on our behalf.” The announcements of additional police deployment have coincided with a knife attack in Central London, although authorities have indicated the attack is not the product of radicalisation.
The move also comes as new Home Office statistics revealed that the number of firearms officers in England and Wales had fallen slightly, from 5,677 to 5,639, in the past 12 months. There are 1,267 fewer firearms officers overall than in 2010 because of cuts to police funding. An extra 1,500 officers are scheduled to be deployed by the end of April.
Terrorist attack on UK remains a case of “when, not if”, says Met chief
The Guardian reports that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has said that Britain is well equipped to prevent terrorist atrocities similar to those seen on the continent in recent weeks, but it remains a question of “when, not if” there is an attack. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said he was hoping to offer reassurance following a number of attacks in France and Germany, but admitted that he was ultimately limited in doing so by the reality of the situation. “I know that with each new outrage and especially those on our doorstep in Europe, there is a greater sense of fear that Britain will be the next victim in this wave of cruel and mindless mass murder,” he said. He added “Our threat level has been at severe for two years – it remains there. It means an attack is highly likely. You could say it is a case of when, not if.”
Sir Bernard also outlined specific steps implemented after rampaging gunmen killed 130 people in Paris last November. The number of firearms officers has been increased by 600 to 2,800 and the number of specialists available immediately, 24/7, to tackle any terrorist threat, had risen three-fold, he said.
Question on MDP answered in the House of Commons
While the parliamentary recess continues, a number of questions tabled prior to the House of Commons rising for the summer have been answered this week. This included a question tabled by Conservative James Cleverly on the closure of MDP Wethersfield.
Mr Cleverly’s question asked the Defence Secretary what assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of the selling of MDP Wethersfield on the MDP. In response, Defence Minister Mark Lancaster said that there is not expected to be any effect on the MDP, noting that 91% of all operational MDP officers are stationed at other locations around the United Kingdom with Wethersfield providing a Headquarters and training capability. He added that the functions and facilities currently provided at Wethersfield to support the MDP have already been surveyed and they will be re-provided at a new location.
With Mark Lancaster confirmed as retaining ministerial responsibility, the Federation will be continuing to brief parliamentary supporters and engage with the Minister and officials regarding the availability of training facilities.
Military helicopters to transport armed police
The Times reports that military helicopters will provide transport for armed police in the event of an attack in a remote location. A “lift and shift” deal has been agreed with the military because of a shortage of police marksmen. It means that firearms officers will be able to reach scenes swiftly, even in areas with little armed support. The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) confirmed that it had agreed that military vehicles could be used to fly officers into areas attacked. The number of police helicopters has already been cut and those used by the military can carry more people.
The NPCC is also said to be considering redeploying firearms officers from rural areas to cities considered more likely to be a terrorist target. That is likely to cause alarm in smaller forces.
The availability of armed police for rural areas and outside major cities has already been cited as a concern by security experts and commentators. The Federation, as part of its ongoing political engagement, will be highlighting the role that MDP officers can play in providing local armed policing capacity in the event of a major incident (in which officers might be deployed to support Home Office constabularies).
£1bn of funding for Trident renewal released
The Financial Times reports that the MoD is planning to release more than £1bn, possibly as early as September, to enable BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce to begin manufacturing the first of four submarines that will form the centerpiece of Britain’s renewed nuclear deterrent. The funding, which is expected to last for 12-18 months, will mark the start of industrial production in a programme which has been budgeted at £41bn, including £10bn for contingencies. It will be the first payment since MPs confirmed Britain’s commitment to renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent system with a parliamentary vote in July.
The scope of the financing package is still being negotiated by the MoD with industrial partners, BAE and Rolls-Royce. Unlike most previous defence contracts, financing for the industrial phase of renewal will only be released in stages to try to keep costs under control. At each stage new conditions for performance and delivery could be agreed. So far £4bn has been spent. Industry sources said the new round of funding would be used for continued design work and to order components that take a while to manufacture. It would also be used to secure production in the supply chain, which accounts for roughly half the cost of building a new submarine. The first steel is expected to be cut by the end of the year.
Police investigate report of suspicious activity near Aldershot garrison
The Guardian reports that police are investigating reports of two men acting suspiciously near the British Army garrison in Aldershot, Hampshire. Officers received a report from a civilian member of staff who works in the military complex that two men were behaving suspiciously in a blue Renault Clio parked nearby. There was no contact made between the two men and the person reporting the incident and there is nothing to suggest a crime was committed, the police added.
Tensions have been high around military bases since two men described as “Middle Eastern” in appearance allegedly tried to abduct an RAF serviceman at knifepoint outside RAF Marham, Norfolk, in July. Bulford military camp on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, was placed on lockdown on last week after reports that three people had been seen on a nearby ridge with a “long-barrelled weapon”. However, police said the incident was a false alarm.
MPs call for Royal Navy to be deployed in border control roll
The Daily Telegraph reports that MPs have warned that the Royal Navy should be deployed in the English Channel to protect the UK against migrant people-smugglers and the heightened terror threat. Extra patrols around the border are needed, MPs say, because the UK’s fleet of cutters is depleted and not sufficient to protect against the threat to the country from the refugee crisis. The warning by the Home Affairs Select Committee comes as it emerged that British ferry passengers may soon be protected by armed sea marshals or see their ships boarded by military marksmen amid fears of a terror attack in the English Channel. The Daily Telegraph understands that British and French ministers are in talks about deploying marshals on cross Channel ferries amid fears that they are a “weak link” in the fight against Jihadi terrorists.
Protecting the English Channel has in recent months become the key front in the battle to protect Britain’s borders. Earlier this year 18 Albanians were rescued from a sinking inflatable boat off the Kent coast. However, it emerged that just three Border Force cutter vessels were being used to patrol the UK's 7,000 miles of coastal borders.
Russell Square stabbings: Man arrested on suspicion of murder
The BBC reports that man has been arrested on suspicion of murder after a US citizen was killed and five other people were injured in a knife attack in central London. Police believe the attack in Russell Square on Wednesday was “spontaneous”, with victims “selected at random”. The injured people were from Britain, America, Israel and Australia. Police arrested a 19-year-old Norwegian national of Somali origin. They say there is no evidence of radicalisation.
Armed police were called to the square shortly after 10:30pm on Wednesday after receiving reports of a man attacking people with a knife. They arrived within six minutes and chased the suspect, who eyewitnesses said had blood on his hands. They said police ordered him to stand still but he kept running. He was then Tasered by officers.
Concern after all Royal Navy destroyers seen docked in harbor
The Sunday Times reports that the Royal Navy’s fleet of six £1 billion Type 45 destroyers are docked in Portsmouth for reasons that include giving crews time with their families over the summer, according to the MoD. A Navy spokesman said the scenario was “unusual but not unprecedented” and said it is not connected with the serious engineering problems that have beset the fleet.
It was revealed earlier this year that vessels were breaking down in the Persian Gulf because they are not designed for the heat. Intercooler units, which reduce heat from the exhaust, slowdown in warm waters, leaving the engine unable to generate enough power. Last month, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones told the House of Commons Defence Committee that the gas turbine engines driving destroyers “degraded catastrophically” in very warm seas. The MoD will have to pick up the full bill for the multimillion-pound refit. It is understood that the entire fleet is expected to remain in Portsmouth for around three weeks. “To have them docked for a sustained period over the summer is unusual but not unprecedented,” the Royal Navy spokesman said.
Senior military officers critisised over hotel bills
The Independent reports that the MoD is facing criticism for spending tens of thousands of pounds on luxury hotels for senior military personnel, including a five-star super yacht in Gibraltar. According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the MoD spent £222m on travel and hotels in 2014-15. Senior military officials spent more than £300 a night on 75 stays last year, totaling a cost of £121,463. The most lavish hotel bill resulted from a stay onboard a £120m five-star super yacht, which houses two restaurants, a sun deck and a casino. The 20 nights spent on the Sunborn Hotel totalled £8,880. The MoD even paid £35,600 at 24 hotels in London where there are a number of military barracks for service personnel. One employee spent £312 for a night at the Park Lane Hotel, which is only a mile from the MoD’s barracks in Hyde Park.