The Fred Wigg Tower missiles case: a half-time summary

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I was in court 19 for 45 minutes or so of the case (c11.15-12) and am back in chambers now so can report the arguments in a little more detail.

Essentially, the residents say that the MoD has known about the Olympics for seven years. If it needed to station these missiles anywhere in the block, it should have warned the residents, and discussed the decision with them. It may be that the residents would have accepted the need for the missiles, or it may be that they could have assisted with the planning of them (eg by letting the authorities know what particular needs they have, such as in the event of an evacuation).  But there has been no consultation at all.

The Fred Wigg tower is an unsuitable location: as their barrister Marc Willers put it, “missiles in a residential block are like oil and water, they don’t mix”. The tower was subject to a fire at the end of the last year. It is not more secure, indeed rather less secure than a normal council tower block.

There is a fob system on the main entry door only, which residents disregard (and they simply let in anyone who rings). There is then asecurity guard who sits by the main entry door, and during 10 visits by the residents’ lawyers, the guard did not stop them once. There is then a lift, which gives open access to the floor immediately below the roof on which the missiles will be located. The soldiers guarding the missiles will be unarmed, although on the top floor (i.e. immediately below them) the MoD proposes to station a permanent contingent of armed police. The MoD’s ostensible rationale for this level of security is supposedly to protect the missiles from theft, in reality (the residents say) the MoD is worried about terrorists trying to attack the missiles: the missiles are a well-known and vulnerable target to anyone planning an attack. Over time, inevitably, the MoD will step up security at the block (eg by introducing metal scanners, and a permanent block at the entry. This is the sort of security that you need to protect missiles, but grossly over the top, and offensive to article 8 ECHR, for an ordinary residential block.

Several of the residents suffer long-term health conditions which can incapacitate them for hours at a time. In the event of an emergency (i.e. terrorist attack, or another fire in the building) they would not be able to join in an evacuation.

Even if the missiles needed to be placed “somewhere” in the vicinity, there should have been an assessment of the adjoining Wanstead Flats, which are a large, relatively empty, green space on which a scaffolding tower might have been fixed. This alternative would not have been ideal, and there might have been protests against it, but it would have been a better option than to put the missiles in the middle of people’s homes.

The MoD case by contrast is that the army has an untrammeled right to station missiles wherever it sees fit and there is no obligation to consult residents. There was an exhaustive search for suitable locations (the details of which the MoD will not disclose), and the Fred Wigg tower was the only site in London capable of acting as a sixth site to host the missiles and thereby providing general protection against terrorist attack. The missiles could not have been placed even 50 metres to the North, East, South or West.

There are elderly and infirm people in the block, but it is not a hospital. Generally, their health is not so bad that they would be incapable of evacuation in an emergency.

The missiles will not be used recklessly, and can only be fired by an order of the Prime Minister himself.

The current security locations, lax as undoubtedly they seem, will be maintained. There is no terrorist threat against the missiles, and no need for the security measures protecting the block to be stepped up.

It will follow from this summary that perhaps the least credible argument being put in court was the MoD’s insistence that simultaneously: a) London is under immediate threat from terrorists, so unusual security measures are needed, which you would only normally consider in wartime, and b) the missiles in particular (and therefore the residents) are of no potential interest to terrorists, and can be housed in a residential block without raising the merest possibility of a health and safety risk.

The hearing continues…

UPDATE: 5pm Monday. The case has now adjourned, and judgment will be delivered first thing tomorrow. Some (brief) further coverage, including a quote from the MoD is on the Guardian’s rolling Olympics new page here.

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