This week’s main UK security and defence news has been the recommendation from the Defence Select Committee that the MoD should lose its immunity from corporate manslaughter charges if service personnel die during training exercises as a result of gross negligence. The Daily Telegraph reports that the recommendation was made after a string of military training deaths, including those of three SAS hopefuls on the Brecon Beacons. The Committee’s report, Beyond endurance? Military exercises and the duty of care, said that defence leaders have failed to do enough to protect the Armed Forces during training and the MoD should be stripped of its current protection. The Committee said the change would show “the lives of serving personnel are worth no less than those of civilians and those responsible for their deaths must be equally liable under the law”.
Since 2000, 135 Armed Forces personnel have died while on training and exercise. Crown immunity means the highest penalty the Health and Safety Executive can hand the MoD for severe breaches is a reprimand called a Crown Censure. The MoD has received 11 censures since 2000, more than any other Crown body.
An MOD spokesperson said “The safety of our personnel is an absolute priority and, while each death is tragic, deaths in training are rare,” adding: “We acknowledge that more needs to be done, which is why we set up the Defence Safety Authority last year. We will now carefully consider this report and respond in due course.”
· Controversy over delays to frigate order
Controversy over delays to frigate order
The Guardian reports that shipyard workers on the Clyde in Glasgow are gearing up for a battle to save their jobs, amid fears the government is backsliding on a pledge to provide a steady stream of orders. Work on new Type 26 frigates due to be ordered by the MoD had been expected to begin this year, but there are concerns it could be delayed until 2017. Plans for a state-of-the-art “frigate factory” – which it had been hoped would help the UK win future export orders – also appear to have been shelved.
In last autumn’s SDSR, the Government announced that it would order eight frigates Type 26 instead of the original thirteen; and there are concerns that promised work on smaller offshore patrol vehicles will not be sufficient to keep the yards’ order books full and maintain the workforce. The frigate contracts were first promised ahead of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, when the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde was a key issue.
The original source for this story was a briefing given by BAE, the shipyard’s owners, to their worker’s unions – possibly in an attempt to put pressure on the Government to place the promised orders. Whilst there may be some truth to the claims of shortfall in work due to the delay in orders and the small scale of the patrol ship project, the far greater threat to the workforce is the Government’s forthcoming National Shipbuilding Strategy, which may outline a permanent cut to production requirements.
Army Captain dies during London Marathon
The BBC reports that more than £100,000 has been raised for charity Help For Heroes following the death of an Army captain after the London Marathon on Sunday. Afghanistan veteran David Seath, 31, had a cardiac arrest three miles short of the finish, near the 23-mile mark, close to Southwark Bridge. Over £50,000 has been donated to his own page, while a separate campaign has raised over £70,000.
Capt Seath, who was in 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, had hoped to raise £250 for Help The Heroes.
He received immediate medical attention after collapsing near the end of the race but died later at St Thomas' Hospital. The exact cause of death is yet to be established. Lt Col Jon Cresswell, commanding officer of 29 Commando Regiment, said the “thoughts of the regiment” are with his girlfriend Gaby Schoenberger, his parents Libby and Pete, and brother Gary.
British students jailed for Islamic State-inspired murder plot
The Guardian reports that a pair of home-grown terrorists have been given life sentences for plotting to kill soldiers, police officers and civilians in a series of Islamic State-inspired drive-by shootings. Tarik Hassane and Suhaib Majeed had already obtained a gun and ammunition, and were attempting to acquire a moped when they were arrested. Hassane identified Shepherd’s Bush police station and the Parachute Regiment Territorial Army Barracks at White City as possible targets on Google Street View.
Mr Justice Wilkie jailed Hassane for a minimum of 21 years and Majeed for a minimum of 20 years. Earlier, the court was told that both Hassane and Majeed had now accepted their involvement in the plot to murder. In his confession, Hassane had said he felt like he was in a “bubble” at the time but added: “I really doubt I could have ever done this.”
Defence Secretary refuses to rule out sending troops to Libya
The Daily Telegraph reports that British soldiers could be sent to fight Islamic State terrorists in Libya, the Foreign Secretary has said. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Philip Hammond says he cannot “rule out” the need for troops in future to combat the terrorists who have seized a stretch of Libya’s Mediterranean coast. British cruise-liners and commercial shipping have been warned to avoid the coast near to the Libyan city of Sirte, on the Mediterranean, and there is a credible prospect that the Islamic State could send terrorists across the sea to Italy to mount attacks, he warns.
Mr Hammond insists western allies are waiting for an invitation from the fledgling government of Libya – which he does not expect to come soon – before deploying forces to help fight the Islamic State, or train local militias. But he says Britain would be potentially ready to respond to a request from Libya for air strikes or naval support for a Libyan-led ground offensive against the Islamic State in Sirte.
Former head of MoD procurement hired back by MoD to review own work
The Daily Mail reports that the former procurement chief at the MoD has been recruited to carry out a £60,000 review of his own work. Sir Bernard Gray left his £380,000 role as Chief of Defence Materiel at the end of last year. But the Department has confirmed that he will now be conducting a review of progress in reforming procurement processes, despite complaints that he is 'marking his own homework'. Sir Bernard was credited with cutting cost overruns at the MoD, but his time was marred by a series of controversies about his salary and expenses as the government pushed through drastic austerity measures.
MoD sources confirmed to the Daily Mail that it has awarded a 'non-competitive' £60,000 deal to Pole Star Strategy to review whether reforms had been effective. The review is expected to be completed within months. Details on the Companies House website show that Sir Bernard founded the firm in December after leaving the department. An MoD spokesman pointed out that Sir Bernard had carried out a similar review for the Labour government in 2009, and said he was 'well placed' to undertake the latest study.
RAF use largest bomb for first time in war against the Islamic State
The Daily Telegraph reports that the RAF has used the largest bomb in its arsenal against Islamic State fighters for the first time, when it dropped two bunker buster weapons on a tunnel complex in Iraq. Tornado jets dropped the 2,000lb Enhanced Paveway III (EPWIII) bombs on the entrances to a system of tunnels and bunkers dug into terraced hillsides above the Euphrates in western Iraq.
British warplanes have flown around 2,300 sorties and launched more than 650 air strikes against the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, in the past 18 months as part of an international coalition to try to destroy the extremist militants.
Hillsborough families to sue police for “abuse on industrial scale”
The Guardian reports that the families of Hillsborough victims are to launch a multi-million pound High Court claim against two police forces for “abuse on an industrial scale”. Lawyers acting for hundreds of those affected by the disaster said they had launched proceedings against the South Yorkshire and West Midlands forces.
In a statement, solicitors firm Saunders Law said it was taking the High Court action over the “cover-up and actions intended to wrongly blame the deceased and Liverpool Football Club supporters for the tragedy, for which there has still been no proper admission or apology”. The statement comes after a two-year inquest into the disaster determined that the 96 victims were unlawfully killed, sweeping aside years of claims that Liverpool fans were to blame. David Crompton, the South Yorkshire police chief constable, was suspended on Wednesday in a move welcomed by some Hillsborough families amid demands for other heads to roll following a failed attempt by the police to exonerate themselves during the hearing. Saunders Law’s James Saunders said South Yorkshire police had spent £19m “defending the indefensible” at the inquest, which was the second one held into the disaster.