This week’s main security and defence news has been the announcement that the UK is to increase its commitment to the defence of NATO’s Eastern European members. The Daily Telegraph reports that around 800 soldiers along with tanks, armoured vehicles and drones will now head to Estonia in the spring in a NATO effort to reassure the Baltic states over Russian aggression. The boosted mission, up from 500 announced earlier this year, will be Britain’s largest long-term deployment to one of Russia’s neighbours since the end of the Cold War. Defence sources said the six-month deployment to Tapa army base, around 100 miles from the border, was the start of a persistent UK presence in the country. The British troops will form one of four NATO battalions being deployed in response to a perceived threat from Russia to the alliance's eastern allies.
Additionally, RAF Typhoon fighters will be sent to join the Baltic air policing mission to offer reassurance to the Black Sea allies, the MoD said. It will be the first time RAF planes have been dispatched to patrol Romanian airspace.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, speaking after a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, said: “Backed by a rising defence budget this deployment of air, land and sea forces shows that we will continue to play a leading role in NATO, supporting the defence and security of our allies from the north to the south of the alliance.”
The UK and wider NATO deployment of forces to Eastern Europe is designed to act as a ‘trip-wire’ to ensure that any Russian incursion into the alliance’s territory immediately results in the involvement of NATO major powers. This guarantee of a multinational response is intended to deter Moscow from any aggressive action.
MDP Committee publishes 2015-16 Annual Report
The MDP Committee has published its 2015-16 annual report into the status of the MDP. The Committee gave assurances to the Defence Secretary that the MDP continues to deliver policing services in accordance with the MoD Police Act 1987. However, it also noted that a combination of high vacancy rates and restrictions on overtime spend has led to “unavoidable downward variation of service level at some establishments”, albeit with the consent of customers based on risk assessment. Remedying this will depend on 2016/17 recruitment levels.
More broadly, the Committee noted that the MDP faces three key challenges:
· No final decision has yet been made on the option of replacing MDP by military personnel at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston, and this is causing retention issues.
· Despite the disposal of MDP Wethersfield, no alternative HQ for the MDP has yet been identified.
· The review of infrastructure policing could see the MDP change its form in the coming years.
Examining the MDP’s finances, the report notes that MDP had an outturn for the financial year 2015-16 of £162.4m including external customer funded services; after third party income and allowable overspends the net outturn was £136.5m. This was £0.9m under budget. This limit was only kept to as the result of a recruitment freeze and caps on overtime. The Committee anticipated that one-off spending cuts for 2015-16 that cannot be repeated this year and additional spending pressures could result in a £13m shortfall in 2016/17.
Additionally, it was also highlighted that the Government has declined the MoD’s proposal for an Enhanced Effective Pension Age of 60 for MDP officers. This was done on the grounds of an unwillingness to set a precedence for other bodies and to promote longer working lives in general. The Committee noted its disappointment at this decision and suggested that it be revisited in the future – potentially after the Infrastructure Policing Review.
The Committee report outlines a broad swath of issues the DPF has engaged the MoD over recent months and years. Notably, it highlights the settlement reached between the two bodies regarding TACOS late last year. The Federation will be meeting with a MPs prior to and following the Christmas recess, and will be highlighting concerns including recruitment issues and the increasing demands on officers.
Debate on Policing and Crime Bill takes place in the House of Lords
This week has seen a debate on the Policing and Crime Bill take place in the House of Lords.
The main development was the Government’s long-promised insertion of amendments allowing officers that have departed the force to face disciplinary proceedings. Previously, Clause 28 allowed for the extension of the disciplinary regime to former officers where an allegation arose before they resigned or retired, or arose within a limited period of time following their resignation or retirement. Now, the Bill has been modified to allow for the IPCC to apply an ‘exceptional circumstances’ test to extend this period where appropriate. Cases where the investigation or disciplinary proceedings concerning former officers, special constables or members of the MDP which arise from a decision to reinvestigate a matter previously closed, will now lead to disciplinary proceedings in cases which either meet the exceptional circumstances test or where the reinvestigation commences within the specified time limit. However, the legislation will not be retrospective, meaning misconduct which took place prior to the passing of this bill will not be liable for investigation.
The debate also saw Lib Dem peer and defence spokesperson Baroness Jolly put forward an amendment that would have seen the Royal Airforce Police, Royal Military Police and Royal Navy Police placed under the jurisdiction of the IPCC. In a Huffington Post article published to coincide with her amendment, she argued that the Armed Forces needed independent scrutiny to halt cases of bias caused by the personnel investigating their own service branch and to monitor for more conventional mistakes. In making her case, Baroness Jolly cited the Royal Military Police’s failure to properly investigate the rape of Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, who subsequently committed suicide. The RMP issued an apology over the case last week. However, despite the amendment receiving vocal support, Government spokesperson Baroness Chisholm rejected such a move as unsuitable, and noted that the Government was studying alternative oversight options. Baroness Jolly subsequently withdrew her proposed amendment.
The issues of oversight for the service police forces and the potential conflicts of interest they face have been a cause championed by a number of parliamentarians in recent years. In its engagement with MPs and peers, DPF has sought to highlight to them the role the MDP could play as a more neutral arbiter in investigating criminal acts within the branches of the Armed Forces. We will approach Baroness Jolly to request a meeting to brief her on the contribution the MDP could make, as well as our other areas of concern.
Plans to allow armed BTP officers to use London underground announced
The BBC reports that the British Transport Police (BTP) wants its armed officers to be able to travel around London on the Tube network within the next few months. It says the presence of uniformed marksmen on the Underground will reassure the public and allow them to reach their destinations more quickly. The BTP insists there will not be armed patrols in carriages, but rather a new way for officers moving between jobs. At present, armed officers use marked cars to travel around the capital. The BTP says it has been considering its armed officers using the Tube for months and it is not a knee-jerk reaction to the incident at North Greenwich last Thursday.
The BTP believe it is an operational decision for the force to take, but it is consulting with others on the plan. But the announcement has come as a surprise to the Mayor of London whose team see the move as a big change. The proposal is only for armed officers from the BTP to use the Tube: the Met Police is not suggesting any change to its policy. There are currently 700 BTP officers in the capital but, for operational reasons, the Force will not say how many are armed.
The drive to allow armed officers to travel by Tube is likely to be the result of an analysis of how to best utilise the limited armed policing resources London possesses.
Britain has foiled 10 terror attacks in two years, say police
The Guardian reports that Britain’s security services and counter-terrorism units have foiled at least 10 attacks in the past two years. It also emerged that authorities are dealing with about 550 “live” cases at any one time. The figures were disclosed by Neil Basu, the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan police and new senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing.
Mr Basu said: “We continue to work at a relentless pace with our key partners, currently dealing with around 550 live cases at any one time. The counter-terrorism network and security services have successfully foiled at least 10 attacks in the last two years, with 294 convictions for terror-related offences.” Armed assets were increasing “dramatically” across the UK, he said, noting that by being better equipped “we are better able to reach a scene quickly, gain control and stop the threat.” He added “The only way for us to prevent terrorism in this country is for the police to be the public and the public to be the police. Communities will defeat terrorism. Strong, cohesive communities – whatever their religion, race, creed or colour – working together to keep this country safe.”
Soldiers under investigation over unauthorised Iraq mission
The Sun reports that a group of SAS soldiers who tried to hunt down the killers of six British Red Caps in Iraq in 2003 could face prosecution after a four-year investigation. Up to 40 elite troops, including a former SAS commander, face charges of actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm and if found guilty, they could be jailed. Next month, the MDP will hand a file to the military’s prosecution service which recommends soldiers should be charged with assaulting an Iraqi policeman. It will be first time an investigation involving the SAS in Iraq has been deemed serious enough to be passed to the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA).