This week’s Parliamentary debate on Trident safety was preceded by a Peace Camp trespass on Tuesday night to highlight the total lack of security at dangerous sites immediately adjacent to the submarine base at Faslane.
At least one person climbed over a gate and had the unchallenged run of the fuel oil depot next door to HM Naval Base Clyde for around ten hours. A rainbow peace flag was flown from the top of the highest building in this area for the duration, but the trespass wasn’t detected until a participant wandered down to the main road and complained to a security guard at the refuelling jetties.
During the night, a Royal Navy tanker cabin parked at a filling station was responsibly damaged to highlight the possibility of more dangerous sabotage. Staff attending to this were certainly concerned for the integrity of other vehicles and equipment at the facility, and were overheard referring to the possibility of ‘total disaster’ if they had been tampered with. In the event nothing else was touched, because come on.
Wednesday morning’s arrestee lost their boots and trousers to a forensic investigation into the matter. Meanwhile they’ve been charged with a breach of the peace which won’t stick; police claimed to have been required to ascend to an unsafe height, but never asked for cooperation before climbing up to meet the trespasser. Perhaps aware that it’s unlikely to go further, the Procurator Fiscal has since summoned up an historical charge instead, making
this person the only one we know of facing prosecution for April’s Big Blockade. O well.
This effort was intended to display the potential for great harm to come from actual bad guys being able to access such sites. The fuel depot and jetties are close to the main gate and sub pen of Faslane respectively, and any kind of fire or explosion in these areas would be hugely hazardous for the safety of the nuclear site. It’s exactly these kind of vulnerabilities which terrorists would identify and exploit.
The possibility of terrorist sabotage or infiltration was one of the concerns raised by William McNeilly in his recent report. The MoD’s response to this in advance of Thursday’s debate was fascinating. It seems they’re more worried about unauthorised use of electronic cigarettes, despite these being no safety hazard, than they are about any of the other matters identified by McNeilly. He’s currently still in their clutches at Devonport whilst the Ministry tries to convince him that he shouldn’t be worried about these things either.
So, Faslane isn’t secure, submarines aren’t safe, and trying to do something about either gets you locked up. Plus ca change…
Security and safety concerns at Britain’s top nuclear sites were highlighted again as a protester was arrested last night having breached security at the Fuel Oil Depot adjacent to Faslane, home of the UK’s Trident submarines. The trespasser, a resident of the Faslane Peace Camp, was able to enter the facility undetected. The activist is currently in police custody and is expected to be released later today.
In a pre-written statement, the Peace Camper declared: “This action is designed to highlight the sheer vulnerability of the sites to those of malign intentions. Huge volumes of fuel are stored in a poorly-secured depot and fuel jetties, and a fire or explosion would cause chaos at the submarine base next door, for which fire is a major hazard.
“We’ve been incredibly lucky that these sites haven’t been targeted by terrorists who would surely identify and exploit such vulnerability. Rather than protecting us, Trident is a liability.”
The break-in comes ahead of Thursday’s Parliamentary debate on Trident safety following the revelations of poor safety and security practice disclosed by submariner William McNeilly. Among issues highlighted by Mc Neilly were the possibility of infiltration of Faslane by terrorists or hostile states.
We don’t usually like using this blog to pass remark without reference to recent actions and activities but feel that Able Seaman McNeilly’s disclosures were exceptional and worthy of comment.
Responsible rebel William McNeilly has now been transferred to the arguably-more-secure confines of the submarine base at Devonport. It still seems likely that he’ll face consequences under military law for challenging the complacency of the Ministry of Defence, which apparently files the health and wellbeing of the entire Submarine Service and the population of the West of Scotland under ‘disposable assets’. The Navy’s activated its public opinion masseurs and wheeled out a few old officers to dismiss McNeilly’s revelations as the rash and unqualified hearsay of an excitable young man. Whilst his account is colourful, even florid in parts, and contrasts severely with the exceptionally level and dry tone of official disclosures, this shouldn’t count against its content. Instead, it’s indicative of the inevitable introspection associated with side-stepping the culture in which he was immersed, a culture of duty and obedience which Milgram and others have shown to be capable of overriding all humane instincts.
We’ve seen further evidence of this culture in the response to our Facebook posts on McNeilly’s detention. A fair shower of Senior Service personnel queued up to attack the whistle-blower and his sympathisers. Apart from puerile slurs, these posts were thematically similar, decrying McNeilly’s actions as a betrayal of the Service and suggesting that he should have knuckled down and tholed the operational conditions on his boat. None of these posts were from submariners. Indeed, one or two brave souls broke ranks to claim similar experience in their time aboard British submarines.
For the benefit of those who are confused, let’s make it clear that there is a huge difference in taking risks with a surface vessel and doing so with a submarine. The implications of an accident for the crew, other shipping, and the general public are worlds apart. If there is a fire, explosion, power, or equipment failure on a surface boat, the crew and nearby shipping may be endangered but it will be possible to summon support and abandon ship if necessary. This is not the case with a submarine on patrol. A submarine which cannot surface cannot evacuate, and the dangers of fire and explosion are far greater when minute-to-minute survival is dependent on a limited air supply and the integrity of the hull. Bearing both a nuclear reactor and multiple nuclear missiles, a Vanguard-class submarine in any kind of difficulty is an enormous liability which could result in a man-made disaster without precedent. The burden of responsibility upon the crew was amply demonstrated during the Cold War, when the crew of Soviet nuclear submarine K-19 sacrificed their lives to prevent a nuclear meltdown in the North Atlantic.
With regard to the specific incidents detailed by McNeilly, disarmament campaigners were immediately able to endorse his account as credible as we’ve heard all this before. Particularly in the period when Trident was introduced, staff within Operation Relentless were forthcoming with concerns regarding its operational safety, and we’ve been privy to unattributable, undocumented reports of incidents and bad practice of a very similar nature to those of McNeilly. What’s unprecedented is for someone with such recent patrol experience to be so forthright and use their name and access to validate what would otherwise be mere anecdotal claims.
The MoD’s been particularly quick to rubbish some of McNeilly’s most fearsome assertions — that alarm consoles were ignored and equipment abused in the missile compartments aboard the submarine on which he served. Unfortunately their own Freedom of Information Act disclosures regarding nuclear weapons road transports describe exactly the same practice; alarms triggered by temperature sensors in the business end of trucks carrying assembled Trident warheads on UK motorways were disregarded, along with the safety of the public across mainland Britain. Additionally, knowing that metal tools are prohibited in the Explosive Handling Jetty at RNAD Coulport which loads warheads onto submarines makes descriptions of missile compartments being used as weight rooms the more troubling.
With regard to security concerns, at least two incidents in the last year or so have seen undisguised Peace Campers exploring Faslane at their leisure — in one case entering the Trident area, in another reaching the foredeck of the Royal Navy’s newest submarine at its berth. The nuclear convoy was also peacefully attacked, and held up for an hour near the shores of Loch Lomond. These actions were designed to disrupt and impede the deployment of nuclear weapons from Faslane and Coulport, but also provide sobering evidence of the vulnerability of Britain’s Bomb. It’s chilling to reflect on how events like this would have panned out if the bases or the transports had been targeted by terrorists careless of their own lives and others’.
Where we part company with William McNeilly is when he describes Britain’s nuclear weapons as an historically-necessary evil. In fact, far from a deterrent against Soviet nuclear attack, the UK’s nuclear arsenal has been a crutch supporting its failing place in the world. Rather than a weapon of last resort, held back to avert the unthinkable, each generation of the Bomb has been in constant use, as a gun is in use when it is pointed at someone’s head. Against the mass of public opinion, which abhors nuclear strike even in retaliation against an enemy’s use of weapons of mass destruction, the British establishment has entrenched its interest with the constant threat of genocide in the longest-running campaign in UK military history. Along the way, they have sunk enormous public resources of finance, skills, and personnel, at great risk of both accidental disaster and the provocation of nuclear war. Meanwhile, the need to be seen to have the will to use this weapon has poisoned any chance of conciliatory diplomacy and a relationship with the rest of the world which moves beyond the exploitation of the colonial era.
McNeilly’s not too interested in geopolitics. What he’s worried about is part of the West of Scotland being obliterated, or his crewmates dying in a radiochemically-toxic accident, for the want of some care and responsibility. His concerns are well worthy of reflection as we approach Parliamentary endorsement of the Trident Successor programme next year. Whether the overseers of Operation Relentless have demonstrated the due care and attention to merit another £100,000,000,000 being thrown at them certainly seems open to question.
Able Seaman William McNeilly is currently a prisoner of conscience in Royal Navy police custody at a military site in Scotland (probably Faslane, his ‘home’ port as a sailor on HMS Victorious). He’s a political prisoner, jailed by a nuclear-addicted government for trying to stop the West of Scotland disappearing in a cloud of radioactive dust and protect the wellbeing of his crewmates and comrades. You’re encouraged to come through to tell the MoD what you think about this, or call them (some numbers are on our Facebook).
Meanwhile, here’s a copy of McNeilly’s report, ‘The Secret Nuclear Threat’ for your convenience. William McNeilly Secret Nuclear Threat 120515
Peace Campers joined fellow internationalists outside the UK Border Agency Reporting Centre in Govan on Thursday, in protest against the malignant growth of the immigration detention estate and the outrage of a recent death in custody.
Would-be Scottish tourist Pinakin Patel died on Monday 20th April inside Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, having suffered a fatal heart attack. He had been detained alongside his wife Bhavisha on arrival in the UK from India two months ago, with the intention of visiting family friends and sightseeing in Scotland on a ten-day holiday.
UK Border Agency (UKBA) staff took exception to redundant documents the couple had packed in support of their valid passports and visitors’ visas. This excessive compliance was apparently suspicious enough to warrant two months of imprisonment without trial.
Despite displaying classic cardiac emergency symptoms, Pinakin waited fifteen minutes before being attended by medics at the Serco-managed immigration prison. Subsequently, newly-widowed Bhavisha was only released following a solidarity hunger strike by her fellow detainees.
The case demonstrates the monstrous summary power of the UKBA over those the State doesn’t choose to recognise. This power is incarnate at the Reporting Centre on Glasgow’s Brand Street, wherein civil servants determine every element of people’s lives, with sanctions including homelessness and destitution or imprisonment with no statutory limitation. The UK is perpetually in breach of international law in maintaining indefinite detention.
Faced with such holistic authority, and successive governments racing toward fascism in their demonisation of migrants and attacks on vulnerable asylum seekers, it can seem like a monolithic struggle. Yet just around the corner is the Unity Centre, for some years a bastion of the local movement for freedom of movement. Their ever-expanding repertoire includes detainee and destitution support, and it was our privilege to be there on Thursday as they welcomed someone back to Glasgow. Together, we can win.
Seven hours of practical disarmament
Concerned citizens from around the UK linked arms against arms Monday 13th April, closing Faslane to road traffic for seven hours.
Ongoing nuclear proliferation at the site was disrupted for the duration as police engineers battled to remove the obstruction. Thirty-four blockaders were arrested but not charged, ironically for ‘breaching the peace’. Two more got lifted for improving the famous Faslane fence with the slogan ‘Scots say no to Trident’.
The blockade began at 0700, with arrestables immediately in situ at all gates to the facility like some wonderful clockwork machine of righteousness. Busloads from Glasgow took the main gate, a crack Ploughshares team occupied the oil depot, and the Peace Camp was put to good use in hosting those charged with holding the southern end of things. Local knowledge proved valuable in helping to evade police patrols and take up positions of maximal effectiveness and minimal disruption to the local community. In the event even the adjacent Clydebank Nursery remained accessible throughout the blockade, with traffic on the main road flowing freely.
The sturdy equipment brought to bear proved useful as cops set to clearing the South Gate road, with the first set of lock-ons surviving over two hours of power tools. Campaigners confounded the removal of another line with the liberal deployment of red paint — the traditional weapon of choice for anti-arms-trade action.
Protesters dancing and rolling in red emulsion to the beat of a samba band, whilst a BDSM mermaid looked on from the banks of the Gareloch… Grandmothers in onesies and nappies, their costumes uncomfortably padded with chains… Such scenes will haunt the dreams and nightmares of those with the privilege to have witnessed them.
A sound system and mobile cafe supplied tunes and provisions to round off the carnival atmosphere which prevailed at what would otherwise have been the sharp end of things.
Meanwhile, public relations niceties meant that the North Gate crew remained unmolested throughout. This contingent included Green and Scottish Nationalist MSPs, as well as Peace Camp and Trident Three veterans. Peace Camp founders were doubtless disappointed to be once more at Faslane after so many years, but we hope they took heart from the scale and effectiveness of the blockade. A turnout of 400, and a seven-hour lockdown, made this one of the biggest and best mass actions against Britain’s nuclear weapons for many years.
Many thanks and congratulations to all those who took part. From the Peace Camp perspective, special thanks to the people who kept things going back at base while we were in the road or the back of a van, and the rock-solid, up-for-it solidarity crew of anti-frackers who took on two gates to ensure a comprehensive closure. We hope to see everyone here again sometime soon — when they’re not expecting it…
There’s a good crew at the Peace Camp just now, if we can be so pleased with ourselves. However, to be fully effective the camp needs greater numbers and wider support. For that reason, we’d like to organise a ‘bank’ of part-time Peace Campers, to help make sure all the boxes are ticked and afford greater ambition in campaigning at this critical time.
What we hope is to put together a rota, maintaining a minimum number of people at camp over and above full-time camp residents. This would achieve two main objectives:
— to free up Peace Campers for direct action, demonstrations, meetings, conferences, research, and monitoring — as well as breaks and nights out!
— to help share the skills which have been built up over 33 years of the camp, spreading knowledge of direct action, blockading, anti-eviction tactics, protest site maintenance, nonviolence, facilitation, and more.
Anyone who is even remotely considering this should know that the most basic function of the Peace Camp is to be welcoming, and hopefully informative, to visitors. If you can make a cup of tea and hand over a leaflet, then you are exactly what we need. Equally, whilst it’s great if people can be on-call to rush through at short notice, we’re just as happy to pencil them in for when they get a free week-end in June.
It’s also worth noting that the camp is well-appointed by protest site standards, or even caravan site standards. There’s a bathroom with hot and cold water, flush and compost toilets, gas and wood-fired cooking facilities, solar power, and telephone and internet. It’s also well-established; there’s no current eviction threat, and the police usually respect our boundaries.
What we don’t want is a two-tier system of full- and part-time Peace Campers. Anyone who’s up for camping recurrently over time would be invited to participate in meetings and contribute to the democracy of the camp.
So, if you like the sound of this, get in touch and we’ll get organised! We may follow up with local meetings dependent on interest. Dogs and children are welcome.
PS: if you’re worried about the security of your personal details, a (nick)name and phone number would be amply sufficient for our purposes.