This week’s main security and defence news has been the arrest of a serving Royal Marine in connection with dissident republican terrorism. The Guardian reports that the detention was carried out on the orders of security officials trying to stop Irish terrorists staging attacks against Britain. The arrest of the marine, named locally as Ciaran Maxwell, was part of a security operation spanning a swath of the south of Britain and Northern Ireland involving four police forces and the domestic intelligence service, MI5. There were also searches of woodlands in rural south Devon suspected of containing bombs and weapons smuggled from Ulster.
It is understood the genesis of the incidents was the discovery in March, and then May, of arms dumps in County Antrim belonging to dissident republicans, called the New IRA, which police in Northern Ireland had hailed as significant. The weapons caches were discovered by chance by members of the public. Among the deadly items were pipe bombs, magazines and ammunition for an assault rifle, and anti-personnel mines. The find and subsequent inquiries led security officials to decide in May that the threat to the British mainland from Irish terrorism needed to be raised to substantial and a race was begun to trace all those connected to the arms dumps before they could stage attacks.
In a statement, police said: “Today’s arrest was planned and intelligence-led as part of an investigation into Northern Ireland-related terrorism being led by SO15 [Met’s counter-terrorism command] in collaboration with Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the south west counter-terrorism intelligence unit. No armed police were involved in today’s arrest.”
Whilst most public attention is focused of the threat of Islamist terrorism, the residual threat from Northern Ireland’s dissident republicans has remained. Incidents such as these will further stretch the UK’s already heavily tasked security forces.
Civil Nuclear Constabulary brings pensions case to court
The BBC reports that representatives of 1,250 armed police officers who protect UK civil nuclear sites have challenged a rule forcing them to work beyond the age of 60 by taking its case to the High Court. While most UK police can retire at 60, Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) officers must work until 65 under a new law. The Civil Nuclear Police Federation (CNPF) says it will be “physically impossible” for officers in their mid-60s to protect the public from terrorism, as its officers have the most physically demanding role in the police service and will not be able to maintain their standards of fitness and weapons proficiency into their 60s.
The standard retirement age for almost all police in the UK is 60, with many able to leave on a full pension in their 50s. But under the new laws affecting public service workers – due to take effect next April – CNC officers will have to work until they are 65, and eventually 68, to receive their pension. The federation believes this is due to a legal anomaly, and is trying to persuade the High Court that its officers should be exempt from the retirement age rise. Martin Westgate QC, representing the federation, told the High Court that if the ruling stood, it would put CNC officers “out of step with the vast majority of police officers”.
Having been excluded from the Public Service Pensions Act, MDP officers are also currently face the prospect of having to work longer than their Home Office counterparts. However, there are a number of differences between the CNC and the MDP cases, and talks are continuing between the MDP and MoD over a compromise solution.
Although a decision on the CNC case was expected to be delivered on Friday 26 September, the BBC’s correspondent who is following the case has tweeted this has now been delayed, and that a verdict may now not be given until November.
Soldier dies during exercise
Sky News reports that a soldier who died while taking part in a night-time live firing exercise at a training facility in Northumberland has been named as Private Conor McPherson. The 24-year-old suffered a serious head wound after being shot during the exercise at the Otterburn training area. Northumbria Police and the MoD have launched an investigation to establish the exact circumstances surrounding the soldier's death, and a cordon remains in place.
Private McPherson’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alasdair Steele, said: “Private McPherson was a capable young soldier who had previously trained in both Kenya and France. He was hugely committed about his career in the Army, he had aspirations to join the Machine Gun platoon and attend a junior leadership course at the start of next year.”
Sky's Defence Correspondent, Alistair Bunkall, has spoken to officials within the MoD who said they do not believe suicide was a factor in the soldier's death. He added that there have been no known arrests in connection with the shooting.
MPs claim that social media platforms are ‘consciously failing’ to police extremism
The Daily Telegraph reports that MPs have claimed that Facebook, Twitter and Google are deliberately failing to stop terrorists from using their websites to promote terrorism because they believe it will “damage their brands”. MPs warned that social media websites are becoming the “vehicle of choice” for spreading terrorist propaganda but websites are policing billions of accounts and messages with just a “few hundred” employee.
The Home Affairs select committee accused US technology giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter of “passing the buck” and said that they have become a “recruiting platform for terrorism”. They highlighted the fact that Twitter and YouTube refused to remove posts by Anjem Choudary, the hate preacher convicting of supporting Isil last week, despite repeated requests by the police.
Simon Milner, director of policy at Facebook UK, said: “Terrorists and the support of terrorist activity are not allowed on Facebook and we deal swiftly and robustly with reports of terrorism-related content. In the rare instances that we identify accounts or material as terrorist, we'll also look for and remove relevant associated accounts and content.”
Bloody Sunday police finish quizzing soldiers for possible prosecutions
The Daily Telegraph reports that up to 20 former soldiers have been quizzed by police over possible prosecutions for the Bloody Sunday shootings, it has been disclosed, as detectives said they had finished their interviews and were drawing up a report for prosecutors. The MoD had warned scores of former paratroopers now in their 60s and 70s that they could called in for questioning after the controversial decision to begin a criminal investigation into the shootings. But sources said only between 15 and 20 soldiers who opened fire on the day have been quizzed. All the men apart from one were interviewed at police stations in mainland Britain after they won a High Court battle against being interviewed in Northern Ireland, where they said their lives were at risk.
The £191 million, 12-year-long Saville Inquiry concluded in 2010 the killings had been “unjustified and unjustifiable” and David Cameron said he was “deeply sorry”. Critics of prosecutions have argued a line should be drawn under the events of the Troubles and have said paratroopers are being unfairly pursued, while IRA crimes are not being investigated.
Increase in payouts for veterans suffering from mental health problems
The Independent reports that the number of serving and ex-forces personnel being awarded compensation for mental disorders has hit record levels. Analysis of Armed Forces Compensation Scheme statistics by The Independent shows that the annual number of mental disorder pay-outs has increased by 379 per cent, from 121 in 2009-2010 to 580 in 2015-16, to reach the highest total in the 11 years the scheme has been running. The claims are not broken down by type of mental disorder or whether a claimant saw combat, but mental health professionals say the timing of the increase mirrors the expected time lag before Afghanistan and Iraq veterans start to experience symptoms and seek help.
A MoD spokesman said it has introduced “anti-stigma” campaigns to make it easier for service personnel to seek help for mental health problems, and had encouraged the submission of claims so they could be properly considered. He said: “We are absolutely committed to the mental health of our armed forces and this increase in successful claims shows our campaigns are encouraging those who need help to come forward to get the compensation they deserve.”
Pokémon Go warning issued to military personnel
The Sun reports that military chiefs have warned that Army and RAF bases could suffer surge in visits by Pokémon Go players hunting virtual monsters. A briefing was issued to all sites after it was reported the game’s digital characters had been reported at locations inside secure military establishments.
In Pokémon Go fans use mobile devices to capture the characters, which appear on screen as if they were in the location with the player. The briefing said security chiefs had “received reports that some Pokémon characters have been located within MoD establishments”. It added: “Consequently there may be an increased risk of persons trying to gain unauthorised access.”