This week’s main security and defence news has been the suicide bombing on Manchester Arena which left 22 people dead, including an off-duty female police officer and several children. The attacker was also killed in the explosion. Dozens of people were injured. As a result of the attack the UK terrorism threat level had been raised, on the guidance of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), from “severe” to “critical” and Operation Temperer has been activated. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the blast. Almost 1,000 Armed Forces personnel have been deployed around the UK to replace armed police guarding key sites for mobile operations, and a total of 3,800 have been made available to support the police. Army personnel will work under the command of police to provide a “static armed guard” at key locations, including several MDP sites, Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, foreign embassies and the Palace of Westminster.
The attack triggered a large-scale investigation by police and intelligence services. The Guardian reports that Greater Manchester Police named the attacker as Salman Abedi, after his identity was first revealed to reporters by US security sources. Abedi, a 22-year old Mancunian of Libyan heritage, was known to the police and security services, although was considered a peripheral figure. Reports suggest that he had just returned to the UK from the north African country. Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins, said: “The priority remains to establish whether he was acting alone or as part of a network.” There have been a number of police raids and arrests in support of the investigation, with Abedi's 23-year-old brother Ismael amongst those detained. The Guardian reports that Abedi’s younger brother, Hashem, and father, Ramadan, have been arrested in Libya on suspicion of having links to the Islamic State. A number of controlled explosions have also been carried out as part of the investigation.
There has also been controversy over leaks to the media from US intelligence services over the investigation. The BBC reports that UK officials were outraged when photos appearing to show debris from the attack appeared in the New York Times. It came after the name of the bomber was leaked through US media 24 hours after the attack – Greater Manchester Police are reported to be “furious” and have seemingly stopped sharing intelligence information with US officials as a result of the leaks.
The MDP are amongst the forces that have been released for other duties under Operation Temperer. The Birmingham Mail reports that the MDP are to patrol Birmingham Pride and concert venues this weekend, and there has also been activity in Scotland. The Herald Scotland reports that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the initial phase of Operation Temperer involved troops being sent to sites normally patrolled by armed officers of the MDP and Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “Military personnel will be used at civil nuclear and MoD sites here in Scotland. There are a total of 12 such sites in Scotland – nine MoD and three civil nuclear sites”, adding “These sites, which are not accessible to the general public, will be secured by the military as of today.” The First Minister said this would free up armed police to create a “contingency resource” which could be sent anywhere in the UK.
However, the deployment of Armed Forces personnel has raised questions over the number of armed police available in the UK. The Financial Times reports that police chiefs have been warning that they are struggling to recruit the extra 1,500 armed officers the UK government promised after the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels. Many chiefs blame recruitment difficulties on the punitive attitude of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to police shootings. The Sun highlights that armed police numbers have fallen from 6,976 in 2010 to 5,639 today. Police Federation of England & Wales chair, Steve White, called on the Government to “learn the lessons” from the Manchester attack.
The General Election campaign was suspended shortly after the attack. Local campaigning will re-start on Thursday 25th May, with the major party’s national campaigning commencing on Friday 26th May. A minute’s silence was held of the victims at 11am on Thursday.
· Infrastructure police ‘could be used to overcome local firearms cuts’
· Conflict within Labour over the future of Trident
· UKIP publish election manifesto
· Thousands of police ‘lack current background checks’
· Concerns raised over lack of crews for submarines
· Ballymurphy families begin civil proceedings against MoD
Infrastructure police ‘could be used to overcome local firearms cuts’
Police Oracle reports that an expert has said that the planned new infrastructure police force, which was announced in the recent Conservative manifesto, could be used to plug shortfalls in existing armed policing capability. Academic and retired officer Tim Brain said: “When they are talking about a firearms officer numbers they already include national forces, so I expect that this will be presented as part of an uplift and form a sort-of tactical reserve”, adding “I expect they will try and use that national force to try and offset some of the cuts to local forces.”
Police Oracle states that they have approached the Conservatives for further details, but as yet have received no response. Defence Police Federation chairman, Eamon Keating, told PoliceOracle.com his priority will be to find out details as soon as possible if the Tories win the election. “This has been looked at several times by different reviews including the last one which went on for just over a year and ended up with a decision that the three forces would work more closely together and collaborate more, and that it would be looked at again after the Brexit negotiations – so at least 2020,” he said. Mr Keating added “If the Conservative Party win the election and if this forms part of the new policy going forward we will look to engage immediately with whoever is responsible and ascertain what the implications are.”
The DPF took a leading role engaging with the previous Infrastructure Policing Review and should the Conservatives win the next election, we will move to ascertain details of the plans and inform members as soon as possible.
Conflict within Labour over the future of Trident
The Guardian reports that Theresa May has claimed Labour cannot be trusted with the defence of the country after a row broke out within the shadow cabinet over the future of the Trident nuclear deterrent. Jeremy Corbyn was forced to restate Labour’s commitment to Trident renewal, after his Shadow Foreign Secretary suggested the party could withdraw its support after a post-election review of Britain’s defence needs. Emily Thornberry was criticised by pro-Trident Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith, and Mr Corbyn himself said Labour was committed to maintaining the deterrent.
Speaking during a campaign visit to Birmingham, the Labour leader said: “The manifesto makes it very clear that the Labour party has come to a decision and is committed to Trident.” A party source said: “Trident will be renewed come what may, the continuous at-sea deterrent.” The nuclear deterrent would be included in a Labour government’s strategic defence review, but it would be looking at issues like costings and how to protect it from cyber-attacks, the source added. However, Mrs May seized on the confusion created by Thornberry’s remarks to accuse Labour of being equivocal on defence, stating “We have seen yet again from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party today that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would not be unequivocally committed to the Trident nuclear deterrent”.
Labour’s internal divisions over Trident are not new, although the party has attempted to maintain a unified front since a decision to retain support for renewing the system as official party policy. However, amongst the party’s opponents to Trident, there remain divisions between those who are willing to accept that decision – at least in the short-term – and those who are continuing to express public criticism. The DPF has met with Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith to brief her on the importance of the MDP, and will continue to engage with the Labour shadow defence team following the election.
UKIP publish election manifesto
UKIP have published their general election manifesto. Specific pledges on security and defence include:
- A commitment to spend a “genuine” 2% on defence by increasing defence spending by £1bn per year
- Taking measures to secure value for money in defence spending – specifically by reviewing the relationship between minister, officials and defence contractors
- Creating a new ‘Veteran’s Administration’ to secure the interests of ex-Armed Forces members
On policing and intelligence, there are pledges to:
- Recruit 20,000 more police officers
- Employ 7,000 more prison officers
- Create a role of an over-arching role of Director of National Intelligence
There are also a number of measures outlined to tackle the spread of Islamic extremism in schools, universities and prisons.
UKIP is the first party to return to national campaigning following the Manchester attack. The party’s polling fortunes have decreased dramatically in recent months, and it remains unclear if they will be able to secure any MPs at the election.
Thousands of police ‘lack current background checks’
The BBC reports that thousands of police officers across the UK have not had up-to-date background checks to ensure they are suitable to serve. Out of 48 police forces, 17 responded in full to a BBC freedom of information request, showing that about 14,000 police officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had not undergone up-to-date checks. Northumbria Police admitted almost 3,000 or nine out of ten of its officers still had not been vetted in line with the most recent policy. Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, Mike Cunningham, said forces “need to address this matter urgently”, adding “There is no doubt that forces who have not vetted or re-vetted large numbers of their staff are subject to a vulnerability.”
The latest vetting guidelines were introduced by the Association of Chief Police Officers. All new police officers and staff are expected to be vetted, while serving officers are expected to undergo retrospective checks. Prior to 2012, forces had their own vetting procedures.
Concerns raised over lack of crews for submarines
The Sun reports that the Royal Navy’s attack submarine fleet is 200 sailors short of full strength. Military insiders say the force has only enough submariners to fully crew five of the seven-strong fleet of nuclear powered ‘hunter-killer’ vessels. A source told the paper: “On paper the Royal Navy has a fleet of seven nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles”, adding “But the reality is worryingly different. Even if the boats were all ready for action, the Navy only has enough submariners to fully crew five boats”
The Royal Navy has been running a £5,000 “Golden Hello” scheme since 2003. However, this has reportedly made little difference to recruitment shortfalls. An MoD spokesman said: “These incentives will help ensure that we have submariners for each specialisation qualified and ready to serve the UK.”
The claim that there are insufficient sailors to crew all seven submarines is less alarming than it sounds, as in reality at least one of the submarines will always be in deep refit, making it impossible to deploy. Nevertheless, the skills shortages facing the Royal Navy are very real.
Ballymurphy families begin civil proceedings against MoD
BBC news reports that the families of ten people shot dead by the army in west Belfast in 1971 have begun civil proceedings against the MoD. They travelled to London to hold a vigil outside the MoD, and hand a letter in to Downing Street. The Government has 21 days to respond to the letter, with the next step in proceedings beginning in September. The Ballymurphy families represent ten people killed in violence as the Government introduced internment. In September, they walked out of a meeting with the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire.
Speaking outside the MoD in Whitehall, John Teggart, whose father was one of those shot dead, said: “We have waited over 45 years and our loved ones are dying, our witnesses are dying.” Inquests into the deaths are due to reopen in 2018.