The main UK security and defence news has been the report of plans to reduce the strength of the Royal Marines. The Daily Telegraph reports that Sir Michael Fallon refused to rule out a cut to the number of servicemen amid claims of a funding shortfall in the Armed Forces. The MoD is reportedly facing a £10 billion funding shortfall over the next decade, and plans to reduce the number of Marines include removing one of 3 Commando Brigade’s three deployable Commando units from front line duty. Sir Michael said there was “not a lot” that he recognised in the claims, but repeatedly sidestepped questions over cuts to numbers. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “We have got 7,000 Royal Marines. The actual balance, the number of sailors and the number of Marines, that's a matter for the First Sea Lord to keep under review”.
The Evening Standard reports that Sir Michael was warned against cutting the number of Royal Marines. Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown, an ex-Marine who served with the Special Boat Service, said: “To cut the Royal Marines would be to play fast and loose with the nation’s defence.” He added “They have fought more wars, carried more burdens and won more victories for our nation than any other corps” Similar warning were voiced by Major-Gen Thompson, who led 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands War.
At present, 3 Commando Brigade’s lead formations comprise of 40, 42 and 45 Commando – which form the infantry force – and 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group. The latter has amongst its task the protection of the UK’s nuclear weapons. The reported plan is to reduce the size of 42 Commando and remove it from its front-line role, instead tasking it as a support force. However, to party compensate for the loss, The Sunday Times reports that “the shortfall will in part be offset by a proposal to add a squadron from a different detachment, which will be moved from a base in Scotland where it has been helping to guard the nuclear deterrent”. This presumably refers to 43 Commando, although the unit is not named.
Although politically unpalatable, it may be that some cuts to Royal Marine numbers is the only way for the Royal Navy to employ a sufficient number of sailors whilst staying within its personnel ceiling. How any change in Royal Marine numbers – particularly those in 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group – would impact upon the protection of the deterrent is impossible to say, but it is highly likely that such tasking would receive priority, with cuts being made elsewhere. More broadly, the questions over the strength of the Royal Marines is symptomatic of a wider demand for savings to be made across the MoD.
MDP officer sentenced over expenses fraud
The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that a court has been told that an MDP officer wrongly claimed £47,000 by falsifying his expenses when he was transferred to work in Yorkshire. Paul Gerrard, 57, pleaded guilty to fraud. However, he avoided an immediate jail term after a court heard of his service during tours of Afghanistan and his work helping to protect the British Royal Family. Mr Gerrard started work as a police officer with Kent Constabulary in 1987, but transferred to the MoD in 2004. He had also worked as a military police officer.
Timothy Capstick, prosecuting, said Mr Gerrard was transferred to Yorkshire in 2011 and was initially allowed to make 'dual commitment' expense claims as he had to rent accommodation in the area as well as pay the mortgage on his family home in Kent. Mr Capstick said the claims became fraudulent from September 2012 when the family home was sold, releasing equity of £113,000. Mr Gerrard continued to make claims for rent on property in the York area despite no longer having to make mortgage payments. Khadim Al'Hassan, mitigating, said that Mr Gerrard had financial pressures at the time and was suffering from depression as a result of his experiences while serving his country. Mr Gerrard was given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years.
Service held in memory of Westminster attack victims
The Daily Telegraph reports that injured survivors of the Westminster terror attack have joined the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a memorial service. The service at Westminster Abbey in Central London takes place just meters away from Westminster Bridge, where Khalid Masood ran down pedestrians before stabbing a police officer outside Parliament. The congregation of 1,800 included members of the emergency services, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Metropolitan Police Acting Commissioner Craig Mackey, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev John Hall, who led the service, told the congregation: “We are all affected by the attack a fortnight ago on Westminster Bridge and at the gates of the Palace of Westminster, and we are all left bewildered and disturbed. He added “But our sense of loss and diminishment is paled by comparison with that of the families of those who died: Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and Leslie Rhodes on the bridge, and Police Constable Keith Palmer on duty at the gates of Parliament, and all those who were injured.” Two weeks after the attack, seven people are still in hospital with their injuries.
Charlton Athletic pay tribute to PC Keith Palmer
The Evening Standard reports that Charlton Athletic have paid tribute to PC Keith Palmer, the police officer killed in last month’s terrorist attack on the Houses of Parliament. PC Palmer had been a Charlton supporter and season ticket holder. On Tuesday, his regular seat at the Valley was replaced with a white chair bearing his warrant number ‘P204752’.
A minute’s silence was held before kick-off at 7:45pm, with representatives from Charlton’s opposition team MK Dons and the police laying wreaths in memory of PC Palmer. His colleagues from the Territorial Support Group and Parliamentary Protection Units stood alongside the Charlton and MK Dons players during the period of silence, with the teams having been led out by PC Palmer’s brother. The Charlton squad, who donated their match fees to PC Palmer’s family, wore specially designed versions of their home kit bearing the warrant number and the message “#WeStandTogether”.
It has been confirmed that the funeral of PC Keith Palmer will be held on Monday 10th April 2017 at Southwark Cathedral at 2pm.
28-day limit on police bail comes into force
The Guardian reports that police will face new curbs on their use of bail after coming under severe criticism for leaving people in legal limbo for months or even years. A 28-day limit on pre-charge bail came into effect in England and Wales on Monday, as part of a government shakeup aiming to end the “injustice” to individuals kept under a cloud of suspicion for excessive periods of time. Until now, forces have not been bound by any cap on how long someone can be bailed for.
Under the measures, it will still be possible for police to secure an extension beyond the initial 28-day bail period where it is deemed appropriate and necessary. One extension of up to three months can be authorised by a senior police officer at superintendent level or above. In exceptional circumstances, where the police need to keep an individual on bail for longer, they will have to apply to a magistrate. Commenting on the reforms, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said, “They will bring about much-needed safeguards – public accountability and independent scrutiny – while ensuring the police can continue to do their vital work.”
The 28-day limit is one of the provisions of the wider Policing and Crime Act 2017.
Brexit dispute over Gibraltar makes headlines
The Guardian reports that the British Foreign Office defended the Royal Navy’s decision to order a Spanish warship out of Gibraltar’s disputed territorial waters, the latest spat in the row between the UK and Spain over the enclave’s future after Brexit. Such incursions by the Spanish are frequent and might normally have passed without notice. But Gibraltar’s role in the Brexit negotiations ensured the confrontation was given media prominence, not least as it came days after the former Conservative leader Lord Michael Howard suggested Theresa May should be prepared to go to war to protect the enclave, as Margaret Thatcher had done over the Falklands.
The incident came as Theresa May and the UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnsons moved to cool tensions, dismissing Lord Howard’s talk of military escalation. The Spanish foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, had also told the UK to calm down.
Plan to close IHAT in June confirmed
The Sun reports that that the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) will officially close on 30 June 2017. The £57m inquiry was set up in June 2010, but has not resulted in a single prosecution. Once wrapped up at the end of June the remaining cases – expected to number around 20 – will then be dealt with by the Service Police, a combination of Royal Navy Police and Royal Air Force Police, led by a senior Royal Navy Police officer. Officials confirmed “all” investigations are expected to be completed by the end of next year.
New £83m MoD centre in Donnington formally opened
The BBC reports that a £83m MoD logistics centre has been formally opened in Shropshire. The Defence Fulfilment Centre in Donnington, Telford, which is the size of 10 football pitches, will store food, clothing and medical supplies. The centre would streamline storage and distribution, delivering savings of about £500m by 2028, the MoD said. MoD Donnington already provided logistics support for the Army, handling military equipment and weapons. Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin, who opened the facility, said: “The Defence Fulfilment Centre in Donnington will transform the way we store and distribute essential supplies to the Armed Forces who keep us safe.”
Although the new facility will save money, some concerns have been raised over the implications of having so much of the British military’s logistics support dependent on a single location. A complement of MDP officers is stationed at MoD Donnington.
Drones prompt 'flood' of complaints to police
The BBC reports that police forces in the UK are being “flooded” with reports involving drones, following an investigation. Last year, more than 3,456 incidents involving drones were recorded, compared with only 1,237 in 2015. The numbers suggest about 10 incidents per day are being logged, it said. Many of the reports logged by forces involved arguments caused by drones being flown over gardens or for long periods of time near crowds. In some cases, said police, burglars seemed to be using drones to check if a house was occupied before breaking in. Criminals have also used drones to ferry drugs and other contraband into prisons.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry, who heads the group overseeing drones on the National Police Chiefs' Council, said more and more members of the public were becoming concerned about the use of drones near them or their family. ”We have to balance the growth of this technology by ensuring that the public are aware of the strong regulatory framework and detailed user guidance that is available relating to drone use,” he said.