The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is shocked with the outcomes of an independent review of policing at the Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE). This highlighted substantial and alarming levels of misconduct at this critical nuclear facility, and an inadequate follow-up investigation of them.
Documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Ministry of Defence, finds strong criticism over policing shortfalls at the site and the ways officers have been subsequently dealt with. (1)
The Burghfield site in West Berkshire is critical to the maintenance of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme and is where Trident warheads are assembled and maintained. It is a high-priority protection site permanently protected by armed security.
A 2.5 years long investigation, following allegations made in 2013 by a whistleblower on the site, found that Ministry of Defence police officers (MDP) protecting the site were failing to conduct routine patrols and a number of them were found to even be ‘sleeping on the job’. Following this serious allegation, the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) professional standards department set up ‘Operation Pease’ to investigate the incident. In total, it investigated the activity of 66 officers on the site. Six were found to have committed gross misconduct and were dismissed. A further 25 resigned and 19 more were required to attend misconduct meetings. This in itself is a shocking state of affairs in the NFLA’s view for such a sensitive defence nuclear site.
However, an inquiry of Operation Pease by Len Jackson, an independent member of the MOD Police Committee, has concluded that junior police officers were ‘scapegoated’ despite a “lack of supervision” by site managers over a number of years, and that poor communication and slow progress with the investigation resulted in a “huge feeling of resentment” across the Ministry of Defence Police Force.
Amongst the key points of Jackson’s report are:
- Although the site management team at Burghfield had been “potentially under investigation”, the Head of Nuclear and Physical Security at AWE felt that the investigation had focused on junior officers rather than address the root cause of the problems – “a lack of supervision” in the specific building involved in the misconduct allegations “over a number of years”.
- Jackson was “surprised” that, given the seriousness of the situation, a senior level group was not set up immediately to deal with the precise terms of reference for the investigation, prepare internal and external communications strategies, and deal with customer liaison, officer welfare, investigative resources and proposed timeframes to resolve these issues.
- In the event the investigation was driven solely by the MDP’s Professional Standards Department, with no oversight and direction from MDP headquarters, resulting in a narrow focus on the misconduct allegations and neglect of the broader issues surrounding the case.
- Jackson is critical of a “distressing and demotivating incident” referred to as ‘Black Tuesday’, when a number of MDP police officers were gathered together in the Burghfield site parade room and made to wait some time until everyone had arrived. They then had to listen as a Duty Inspector read out a list of names of officers who were to go into a room next door to be served with disciplinary papers. Jackson argues this episode “created an atmosphere of resentment which still remains at Burghfield”.
- Jackson’s report states that it is “surprising and more than a little worrying” that the investigation took more than two years to complete, and warned that “considerable damage appears to have been done” by the uncertainties facing officers and investigators as a result of the slow pace. Some officers are still waiting to hear the outcome of their cases.
- Communications by senior MDP officers both at Burghfield and at MDP headquarters had been “heavily criticised” by most of the people whom Jackson interviewed, and officers who were not personally involved in what was happening “were largely left in the dark”. (2)
NFLA support the comments made by Eamon Keating, the Defence Police Federation’s National Chairman that “a total and systemic organisational failure” has occurred in policing at the Burghfield site and junior officers have unfairly bared the brunt of disciplinary procedures. This also places real concern as to how secure nuclear sites – whether defence or civil – are around the UK. It has detailed a whole list of real concerns in its report on nuclear security. This report was recently profiled to the UK Government by Dr David Lowry at the BEIS NGO Nuclear Policy Forum. (3) NFLA calls on the MOD to take appropriate action following the publication of the Jackson report and deal with the systemic problems that appear to exist in policing critical nuclear sites. NFLA will write to Defence Minister Michael Fallon demanding it resolves these shocking series of allegations.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
I am shocked by this report and I applaud the Observer and the Nuclear Information Service for making public these serious allegations of systemic failure of policing at this critical site hosting UK nuclear weapons. What does this sorry incident say about how prepared the UK nuclear sector is to a malicious act from a terrorist organisation? How truly safe from an attack are the maintenance of nuclear weapons at Burghfield? Len Jackson’s review raises many serious and alarming issues which the government must resolve quickly. NFLA is quite frankly disgusted with the systemic weaknesses in policing such a sensitive site and it calls now for urgent reform to resolve them.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) The Observer, January 8th 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/08/trident-warhead-site-burghfield-security-lapses-mod-report
(2) Nuclear Information Service, January 7th 2017 http://www.nuclearinfo.org/article/awe-burghfield/review-exposes-widespread-police-misconduct-burghfield-senior-officers-escape
(3) NFLA Policy Briefing 145 on nuclear security concerns, 29th May 2016 https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A258_NB145_Nuclear_security_concerns.pdf