Tag Archives: Olympic missiles

A secure Games, but who are they protecting?



Author of a new book on the Olympics MARK PERRYMAN argues that the London 2012 security mess isn’t just about staff shortages.

Munich ’72 will always remain one of the most iconic of all Olympic Games. Not so much for Olga Korbut’s impish performance in the Gymnastics or the Gold Medal haul of Mark Spitz in the pool. It is the lethal carnage resulting from the Israeli athletes being taken hostage by the Palestinian Black September group that Munich will always be remembered for.

In Gaza and the West Bank immense problems remain, the murderous consequences of Israel’s war on the Palestinians only too obvious. Yet in all the commentary on the security threat to the London Games scarcely anyone has observed that in 2012 Palestine competes as a nation-state at the Olympics, under its own national flag. This would have been almost impossible to imagine 40 years ago, the threat of terror can never be defeated by military means, the root causes can only ever be solved via a political solution.

Of course the Games organisers cannot afford to wait for a political settlement to the cause that frames the terror threat they identify facing London 2012, the fallout from the Iraq war and the continuing occupation of Afghanistan. But recognising there is a reason behind these acts of violence should at least be the starting point for understanding the securitisation of the Olympics. A point almost entirely absent from all the breathless reporting on London 2012 security and why all these tens of thousands of security staff were required in the first place.

It would be reckless to dismiss the horrors that would be the result of any kind of attack on the Games. But security is also about where you choose to draw the line between safety and liberty. Three examples show how London has got it wrong.

First, the Lea Valley Towpath which runs alongside the edge of the Olympic Park. Already the park is enclosed by a sky high fence, topped by razor wires and electronic sensors, with CCTV every few metres and security patrols inside the fence, all to protect the Park from intruders. But in addition  the towpath was closed to public access 23 days before the Olympics even began.  All across London on the edge of Olympic venues there have been similar restrictions imposed.

Second, on the list of banned objects which cannot be taken into the Olympic Park is ‘the flag of any country not competing in the Games’. This is aimed specifically at Free Tibet demonstrators, Tibet is a country not represented at 2012, what possible harm is there if anyone wanted to wave Tibet’s flag? Isn’t this what’s called free speech? Again, this is just one example of numerous other instances of crossing the line between safety concerns and policing the right to protest.

Third, the experience of previous events. I have been lucky enough to have been to the last four World Cups. None of this very public mobilisation of the host nation’s armed forces took place, no obvious presence of missiles, warships, aircraft on standby, troops on the streets. There is something about the martial and imperial tradition that seems to insist that in GB we must parade our military hardware for all to see and believe this will somehow reassure rather than leave people asking, why?

The security risk cannot be entirely discounted. But the overwhelming effort of all those employed to guard the Games has nothing to do with terrorism. They are there to prevent any sort of protest and to defend the interests of the sponsors. Another item on the banned list of products to take into any Olympic venue is an ‘excessive amount of food.’ If fans are peckish its not an extra round of cheese and pickle sandwiches the organisers want them tucking into but a Big Mac and all the other officially approved products. 

And when the private sector provider couldn’t supply the ever-escalating numbers of staff to frisk fans for their home-made sardines or the wrong brand of fizzy drink to the rescue came the public sector in the shape of the armed services, many recently returned from Afghanistan. Overnight ‘Help for Heroes’ has turned into cheap labour from Heroes in order to protect not you and me, but Macdonald’s, Coca Cola, Heineken and the rest. A secure Games, but who are they protecting?

Mark Perryman is the author of the newly published Why The Olympics Aren’t Good For Us And How They Can Be (£8, £6 kindle edition) available exclusively from http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/olympics/

Fred Wigg Tower case: decision of HHJ Haddon-Cave


The Guardian’s Olympic updater is reporting that the tenants have lost their judicial review of the MOD’s decision to place missiles on Fred Wigg tower:

“A group of council tenants have lost their high court battle to prevent surface-to-air missiles being stationed on the roof of their tower block during the Olympics. More details soon …”

“Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said the residents of the Fred Wigg tower had expressed “shock, anxiety and worry” over the prospect of missiles being stationed on top of their building, but they had been under “something of a misapprehension” about the nature of the equipment to be deployed and the risks deployment would bring.”

I understand that HHJ Haddon-Cave accepted that there was no consultation but found that there was no need to consult, as there was simply no alternative site for the missiles.

I will report more as I know it; the decision is not yet on Bailii, and as well as the actual judgment there may be developments in terms of appeals, etc.

UPDATE (Weds, 12.20) The decision is still not on Bailii, but Lawtel provides the following details:


QBD (Admin) (Haddon-Cave J) 10/07/2012


Residents of a tower block were refused permission to apply for judicial review of a decision of the Secretary of State for Defence to locate a ground based air defence system on the roof of their block during the Olympic games.

The applicant residents’ group (H) applied for permission to apply for judicial review of a decision of the respondent secretary of state to locate a ground-based air defence system, which included missiles, on the roof of the tower block.

H’s tower block was located in east London and had an unobstructed view of the Olympic park. Senior government officials had identified it as the only site suitable for the ground-based air defence system due to its proximity to the Olympic park and the vantage point that it offered. It intended to station the missiles on the tower block roof. No consultation took place and H were notified by leaflet in April 2012. The leaflet explained that the tower block was the only suitable site, the area would be permanently manned by armed guard and police, thus increasing security in the area, and that the missiles were safe. H made the instant application in June 2012.

H submitted that there had been (1) a failure to consult adequately; (2) a failure to comply with the public sector equality duty; (3) a breach of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights art.8 and Protocol 1 art.1.

HELD: (1) A duty to consult arose in four limited circumstances: (i) where there was a statutory duty to consult; (ii) where there had been a promise to consult; (iii) where there had been an established practice of consultation; (iv) where in exceptional cases a failure to consult would lead to conspicuous unfairness, R. (on the application of Cheshire East BC) v Secretary of State for the Environment [2011] EWHC 1975 (Admin), [2011] N.P.C. 92 applied. Absent those circumstances, no duty to consult arose. The law would be slow to require a public body to engage in consultation where there was no obligation or promise to consult, R. (on the application of Niazi) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2008] EWCA Civ 755, Times, July 21, 2008 applied. That was especially the case where there were military deployments under the discretionary powers of the Crown for the purposes of national security and defence of the realm. No statutory power to consult had been identified. The only other applicable regime affecting military deployments was the possible requirement for planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which did not require a duty to consult. Even if the temporary use of the tower block constituted a material change of use and required planning permission, which the secretary of state did not accept, planning permission was automatically granted by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 art.3 and schedule 2. None of the four factors present in Chesire had been identified, Cheshire applied. (2) The secretary of state had complied with the public sector equality duty; an environmental and disability impact assessment was carried out during the decision making process and had been taken into account. (3) The first duty of the government was to defend the realm and protect national security, R. (on the application of Marchiori) v Environment Agency [2002] EWCA Civ 3, [2002] Eu. L.R. 225 applied. The Crown had an obligation to protect the public’s art.2 rights, R. (on the application of Middleton) v HM Coroner for Western Somerset [2004] UKHL 10, [2004] 2 A.C. 182 followed. The purpose of the military deployment was to deter attacks. Article 2 considerations prevailed even if any interference substantially impacted on H’s other Convention rights, as the interference was necessary in the interests of national security. Article 8 and Art 1.Protocol 1 were qualified rights; their engagement did not mean that they had been breached. In order for there to be an actionable interference, a serious breach had to be shown, Gomes v Spain App no 4143/02, Dennis v Ministry of Defence [2003] EWHC 793 (QB), [2003] Env. L.R. 34 and Powell and Raynor v UK (1990) EHRR 355 considered. The proposed deployment would not affect H’s ability to use their properties, it was for a limited time and had been carried out in accordance with the law. (4) H had known about the deployment decision two months before making the instant application. Applications had to be made promptly, R v Director of Passenger Rail Franchising [1996] CLC 589 applied. That requirement was even more pertinent in the instant case. It had been incumbent upon H to make the application promptly, notwithstanding the funding difficulties encountered. H’s failure to do so had seriously prejudiced the secretary of state and public interest. (5) The Ministry of Defence’s voluntary engagement with the community over the plans had been immaculate. Had H properly understood the facts, the instant application would not have been brought. The missiles had been rigorously tested and judged safe, and were essential to the air defence plan. Further, H had been notified that their tower block was the only suitable site and the plan had been approved by senior government officials. H’s fears were unfounded: the presence of missiles would not make them a target for terrorists, nor did they interfere with their use of the tower block. (6) In matters involving national security and deployment of armed forces, the courts would be slow to review prerogative powers, R. v Jones (Margaret) [2006] UKHL 16, [2007] 1 A.C. 136 applied. The court recognised that there were aspects of decision-making which lay solely with the executive, namely national security, defence and foreign relations. The courts were ill-equipped to make such decisions, and they lay within the exclusive province of the executive.

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


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.

The Fred Wigg Tower case: listed in the RCJ today


The Fred Wigg Tower case (i.e the Leytonstone missiles) is listed in the Royal Courts of Justice today. Details as follows:

Monday 9 July, 2012
At half past 10

Applications for Permission
CO/6767/2012 The Queen on the application of Harrow Community Support Limited v Secretary Of State For Defence

Charles Haddon-Cave QC, is an interesting choice: he was a barrister specialising in cases about shipping and aviation, and is the former chairman of the Air Law Group Committee of the Royal Aeronautical Society (i.e. at a sufficient level of generality, we can say that he is someone who is unlikely to be made anxious by the thought of proximity to military technology).

He also chaired the 2009 Nimrod review blaming military deaths on a culture of government cuts.

It is a “permission” rather than a “substantive” hearing – i.e. a hearing as to whether the residents have a case which the MoD must answer, rather than the final hearing of the Judicial Review.

I hope to be there for at least some of it.

Reasons to demonstrate on July 28; number 8: the Olympic missiles


The photograph shows the end of Saturday’s demonstration against the Olympic missiles; a march of about 200-250 people from Mile End Park to Fairfields Road. Our destination was the old Bryant and May factory, outside which the strikers (all women, many Irish, most under the age of 16) met Annie Besant in 1888 and set in train New Unionism, that wave of working-class protest that led to the launch of the general unions, the foundation of the Independent Labour Party (and eventually Labour itself), the start of the welfare state, etc.

It was loud and confident demonstration, with a marching band, and a good chorus of “Say Hey, say Ho, Get your missiles out of Bow”. There were small delegations from Save Leyton Marsh, from SLAM (the South London anti-missile group), and from every large group on the left (SWP, SP, Counterfire), as well as plenty of Occupy veterans. The speakers included two Respect councillors, a local vicar, Chris Nineham of Stop the War and Brian Whelan, the journalist and Bow Quarter resident who first broke the news of the intended missiles (for this small act of heroism he has now been evicted by his landlord). There was also a solicitor from Howe and Co, whose judicial review of the Leytonstone Olympics Missiles will be heard in the High Court on Monday week.

The Olympic organisers’ decision to place missiles here, of all places in East London, with all its resonance to the left, reminds me of nothing so much as a line from Walter Benjamin, “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious”.

I’m proud to note that Stop the Olympics Missiles is one of the groups supporting the next big demo in East London, on July 28th: