Residents of a tower block near the Olympic Park in London were to learn yesterday whether they have the right to challenge an unprecedented decision by the army to deploy high-velocity missiles in a residential area.
Residents of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone told the High Court that the missiles could expose residents to a terrorist attack. They also argued that their human rights have been breached because they were not consulted fairly and properly over the plan to deploy the missiles.
Marc Willers, representing the residents, told Justice Haddon-Cave: “It is the unprecedented siting of a military base or missile site in peace time on English soil that brings us to this court.”
He said the residents had “a fully justified fear that installation or deployment of the missile system on the roof of the Fred Wigg Tower gives rise to the additional risk that the tower itself might become the focus of a terrorist attack.”
Martin Howe, instructed by the local residents’ association, said before the court hearing that tenants of the block’s 117 flats, which are home to hundreds of children, were “very afraid” of the proposals.
“It is incredible that the army thinks it acceptable for civilians to be placed effectively in a military forward base without their consent. It is like oil and water. Active military missile units and ordinary citizens do not mix,” Howe said.
British Secretary of Defence Philip Hammond is accused by the residents’ association of breaching the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects an individual’s right to private life and peaceful enjoyment of their home.
However, David Forsdick, representing Hammond and the British Ministry of Defence, rejected the residents’ case.
“The MOD [Ministry of Defence], intelligence agencies and [London’s] Metropolitan Police do not consider there is any credible threat to the Fred Wigg Tower from terrorism,” he told the court.
Forsdick said the missile deployment was in pursuit of “national security” and defense of the realm. He argued that it was “legitimate and proportionate,” and the MOD was not legally obliged to relocate residents or offer them compensation.
The Guardian disclosed on Saturday that General Sir Nick Parker, commander of UK land forces, told the court in a written statement that Hammond could personally order missiles placed on top of a tower block in east London to shoot down an “unauthorized” aircraft approaching the Olympic Park following a secret agreement reached with the local council.
“The ability to shoot down an airborne threat using HVM [high-velocity missiles], in this location, provides further options to ministers, and means that more time would be available for such a momentous decision. Ministers have been assured that shooting down a plane in such circumstances would be lawful,” Parker said.
Parker said the plan to site the missiles in residential and built-up areas was unprecedented. The deployment was approved by the UK Cabinet’s Olympics committee, which is chaired by the prime minister.
Other sites chosen to guard against any Olympic air threat are the Lexington Building in Tower Hamlets, east London; Blackheath Common and Oxleas Wood, both in south-east London; William Girling Reservoir in the Lea Valley reservoir chain in Enfield, north London; and Barn Hill at Netherhouse Farm in Epping Forest, east London.