This week's main security and defence news has been Jeremy Corbyn’s replacement of his pro-Trident Shadow Defence Secretary, Maria Eagle MP, with his ally Emily Thornberry MP, in a reshuffle designed to create a more unified shadow cabinet. It marks Ms Thornberry’s return to the shadow cabinet after she was forced to resign from her role as Shadow Attorney General under Ed Miliband for tweeting a picture of a white van and St George’s flag, an action that was interpreted as snobbery. However, The Daily Telegraph reports that following her appointment, concerns were raised after it emerged that Ms Thornberry accepted £45,000 worth of donations from a law firm which represented Iraqis who made false claims about British soldiers.
In the aftermath of her appointment, Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces, Kevan Jones MP, resigned on the grounds of Ms Thornberry’s opposition to the Trident weapons system. He has been replaced by Kate Hollern MP, former PPS to Maria Eagle. Interestingly, Ms Thornton – who was only elected in May 2015 – is not opposed the Trident system. When asked about her views on nuclear weapons and Trident, she said that when she was younger she was very anti-nuclear, but that times change and she supports “the need for some kind of nuclear deterrent with a resurgent Russia and more nuclear-armed powers”.
The Guardian reports that Ken Livingstone – who is now co-chairing Labour’s defence review with Emily Thornberry – has said that he hopes that Labour will update its position on Trident prior to the Parliamentary vote on renewing the system, which is expected before the summer. Mr Livingstone has also this week suggested that the UK’s NATO membership was up for discussion, but this was quickly denied by Labour.
The appointment of Emily Thornberry as Shadow Defence Secretary, the departure of Kevan Jones and the fact that the current Labour defence review is being co-directed by CND member Ken Livingstone means that the senior elements of the Labour Party are more solidly anti-nuclear than at any time in the last thirty years. This is despite the belief of Labour moderates that they will be unelectable under a stance of unilateral nuclear disarmament, and concerns from trade unions representing the workers who will build the new Trident submarines.
· British soldiers could face prosecution for crimes committed during Iraq conflict
· New specialist unit to train foreign troops to fight Islamic State
Islamic State video shows murder of five 'British spies'
The Daily Telegraph reports that intelligence agencies are hunting a new ‘Jihadi John’ after an Islamic extremist with a British accent murdered five men accused of spying for the UK. In a video released on social media, the masked gunman warned David Cameron that the West could never win in the war against the Islamic State, while mocking the impact of RAF airstrikes. The victims were all shot in the head at point blank range. The Prime Minister said that the video represented “desperate stuff” from a group that was losing ground.
Subsequent investigations have failed to draw firm conclusions of those featured in the video. The Guardian reports that associates of Abu Rumaysah – the British individual suspected of being the man with the British accent in the video – were divided over whether it was actually him. Abu Rumaysah fled Britain in September 2014, shortly after he was arrested on suspicion of encouraging terrorism and being a member of the proscribed group al-Muhajiroun. He was able to do so because his passport was not taken away from him after he was released on police bail. The identities and affiliations of those executed as 'spies' are also unclear.
Footage obtain of Islamic State 'weapons lab'
Sky News reports that the Islamic State is employing scientists and weapons experts to train jihadists to carry out sophisticated “spectacular” attacks in Europe. Notably, the scientists have produced homemade thermal batteries for surface-to-air missiles – in theory allowing them to recommission thousands of missiles assumed by western governments to have been redundant through old age.
The Islamic State research and development team has also apparently produced fully working remote controlled cars to act as mobile bombs, while they have fitted the cars with “drivers”; mannequins with self-regulating thermostats to produce the heat signature of humans, allowing the car bombs to evade sophisticated scanning machines that protect military and government buildings in the West.
British soldiers could face prosecution for crimes committed during Iraq conflict
The Independent reports that British soldiers who have served in Iraq may face prosecution for crimes including murder, the head of the unit established by the MoD to investigate allegations of torture and unlawful killing in the war-torn country has said. In his first major interview, Mark Warwick, a former police detective in charge of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), told The Independent that he believed there would be sufficient evidence to justify criminal charges.
IHAT’s caseload of allegations of ill-treatment or unlawful killing by British forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 has risen tenfold since it was established. In 2010, it was dealing with cases involving 152 victims. It is now dealing with more than 1,500 victims, according to IHAT’s latest quarterly update. IHAT’s initial target for completion of its investigations was 2016, but this will not be met. And, although the unit is funded until 2019, its work may not be finished by then.
In a related development, The Sun reports that the new British Bill of Rights, which is scheduled to be published within months, will incorporate provisions to block abusive claims against fielded British forces. However, experts are also keen to make sure that the law does not prevent soldiers suing the MoD.
MoD spending on consultants up by almost 300 per cent
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Government has admitted that spending on external consultants has risen from £23.5million in 2010-11 to £91.2million in 2014-15. The Strategic Defence Spending Review (SDSR) stated that the size of the MoD civil service headcount would be reduced by a further 30 per cent to 41,000 by 2020. Labour said that a reduction on this scale will significantly increase the challenge for ministers to reduce spending on consultancy fees over the next five years.
New pay model for Armed Forces
Forces TV reports that a shake-up of Armed Forces pay across all three services has been announced by the Defence Secretary. A new model has been created which aims to simplify and modernise pay for Armed Forces personnel, with the reforms coming into place as of April this year. Rank will continue to be the main determinant of pay and incremental progression will remain a key feature of the new system. Other ranks will now be put into four different categories. Supplement 1 will cover support trades, Supplement 2 is for fighting forces, Supplement 3 for specialist technical roles, while Supplement 4 will only apply to Army Air Corps pilots. The model dramatically reduces the number of possible core pay scenarios from 128. The MoD argues that this will provide a pay system that will be easier to understand for service personnel, allowing individuals to more accurately predict their future pay.
Police will use drones to catch burglars and control protesters
The Times reports that police are to begin using drones in burglary investigations and high-risk operations such as sieges. The remote-control devices will also be used during protests and in searches for missing persons after senior police concluded that they were an efficient alternative to helicopters, police dogs and, in some cases, officers themselves. National guidelines for the use of drones have been issued after a successful test period. More than a quarter of the 43 forces in England and Wales are considering introducing the devices. National guidelines have also been drawn up detailing when police should take action against the public over misuse of drones. There have been increasing numbers of reports of drone crime, including the smuggling of illicit items into prisons and sexual harassment through taking photographs.
New specialist unit to train foreign troops to fight Islamic State
The Times reports that the Army is developing a new tier of “specialised forces” designed to train local troops in danger zones such as Iraq and Syria. The new battalions “would be doing what the American Green Berets do at the moment”, a defence source said. The Green Berets are officially ranked as tier-two Special Forces in the United States, beneath Delta Force and the US Navy Seal Team Six. They are trained to do more than just mentor and advise indigenous troops, however, so are not a direct comparison to the new British concept, which will remain within the regular army’s chain of command.
Army planners are working on the concept with a view to establishing the first one or two pilot battalions, each containing about 450 to 500 soldiers, within the next 18 months. They will draw on expertise gleaned from years spent by regular infantry battalions training and fighting alongside troops in southern Iraq and southern Afghanistan.
Law firm referred to disciplinary tribunal over Al-Sweady inquiry
The Guardian reports that the prominent London law firm Leigh Day has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) to answer complaints about its handling of legal challenges brought by Iraqi detainees against the MoD. The claims brought by the Iraqis, who were represented by Leigh Day and another law firm, Public Interest Lawyers, fell apart when a letter was disclosed showing that some of the Iraqis were members of the rebel Mahdi army. Allegations against Leigh Day include shredding important documents, acting improperly by holding a press conference about the Iraqis’ claims, touting for clients and entering into a prohibited referral fee agreement. All the allegations are denied.
Home Office to take control of Fire and Rescue Service
The BBC reports that the Home Office has taken control of fire and rescue policy in England ahead of planned closer working with the police. The services were previously the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government. MP Mike Penning will take over the portfolio as minister for policing, fire, criminal justice and victims. The Home Office said the response across the country to recent flooding showed “how well the police and fire service already worked together”.
Under Government plans, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will be able to take control of fire services in their area. The elected officials will be able to put in place a single “employer”, led by a senior officer in charge of hiring all local fire and police personnel. The new strategy could lead to arrangements such as sharing back office functions – although the Government insists they will remain operationally independent.
Social media 'is the new neighbourhood policing’, says prize-winning officer
The Daily Telegraph reports that while the traditional bobby on the beat may be on the way out in Britain, police officers say they now have a new way of engaging with the community – through social media. Sergeant Harry Tangye of Devon and Cornwall police, who was named best tweeting sergeant in the police end of year Twitter awards, said: “I think it’s the new neighbourhood policing”. Sgt Tangye says force bosses were initially uncertain about whether their officers should use the tool, but are now fully behind the new method of community engagement.