Sat, Jul 21, 2012 - Page 19 News List

LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS: More UK troops put on standby

‘HUGELY EMBARRASSING’:Soldiers have been put on 48 hours notice because of ongoing concerns about the number of guards being supplied by contractor G4S

The Guardian, LONDON

A pedestrian passes the G4S Olympic recruitment and training center in London, England, on Thursday.

Photo: Bloomberg

A further 1,200 military personnel have been put on standby to help provide security at the Olympic Games because of ongoing concerns about the number of guards being supplied by G4S.

A request from the British Home Office to the British Ministry of Defence had been expected, but the armed forces wanted ministers to make a more decisive move, mobilizing the extra men and women immediately.

However, an emergency meeting in London on Thursday afternoon involving officials from the ministry and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, as well as G4S executives, ended with a compromise.

Instead of being on seven days’ notice to deploy, 1,200 troops will be put on 48 hours’ notice. It is thought many of them will be from 20th Armoured Brigade, which is based in northern Germany.

Yesterday’s announcement came a week after media reports revealed that an extra 3,500 members of the military were being rushed into Olympic duties, bringing the total number of armed forces personnel at the Games to 17,000 — almost twice the number in Afghanistan.

The ministry is anticipating that some, if not all, of the 1,200 will be needed at some point, and commanders would have preferred them to have been mobilized straight away and brought to London.

One Whitehall source said: “The military likes to work with certainties and plan ahead. Politicians prefer to leave things to the last moment.”

If G4S encounters more problems, officials made clear the Home Office may have to think again and make another formal request to the ministry for help.

“This should be the last call up,” another source said. “It would be hugely embarrassing if we had to go through this again.”

Announcing the decision, British Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt said: “We must prepare for every contingency. We are therefore putting an additional 1,200 troops on standby, reducing their notice to move from seven days to 48 hours. They will remain in their current locations, but can be called on if we need them during the coming weeks. We hope that will not be necessary, but this is a sensible precaution. We are confident that we are on track to stage a great Games.”

The decision came as the row over the G4S Olympic security debacle took a new turn.

In a letter to British Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman Keith Vaz, British Home Secretary Theresa May admitted her department was warned of a possible temporary shortfall in G4S guards on June 27.

More than 700 troops were deployed to cover the gaps at the time.

Vaz said he was surprised to learn this because it was a full two weeks before the home secretary told the Commons that the G4S problems had “crystallized” on July 11.

“This letter clearly states that they were warned of a possible shortfall in guards on June 27 at the Olympic security board, two weeks before. We now know there must have been serious concerns as some 725 military personnel were deployed and contingencies started to be made before July 11,” Vaz said.

May’s letter said that on June 27, G4S and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games attended a security board meeting at the British Home Office and warned of “a possible shortfall in G4S deployed numbers” from July 1.

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