On January 22nd this year, under banner headlines proclaiming ‘No 10 covered up Trident missile fiasco’, ‘The Sunday Times’ reported a UK government cover up over a failed Trident missile test, implicating the British Prime Minister herself in an apparent attempt to conceal the truth. The failed missile launch, which had taken place in June 2016, had come at a critical time for Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent, when discussions over the exact nature of its future were entering an important phase in Parliament and elsewhere.
In July 2016, just a few short weeks before the ill fated missile test, British MPs had voted for the system’s renewal by a majority of 355. Little did most of them know that as well as an issue with the missiles themselves, which appears to have been concealed from all but a handful of insiders, the parlous state of the ballistics aboard the subs was just a small part of the problem. In May 2015, some fourteen months before the vote, an article had appeared on the Nuclear Information Service blog under the heading ‘HMS Death Trap – life on board one of the Royal Navy’s Trident submarines’; in which the personal testimony of a then serving submariner, and whistle blower, was referred to at length.
Engineering Technician Submariner William McNeilly had written what the blog was to refer to as ‘a dramatic and frightening tale of faulty equipment, poor security, and safety blunders that, were they not so serious, almost enter into the realms of farce.’ The Nuclear Information Service describes itself as ‘a not-for-profit, independent information service, which works to promote public awareness and foster debate on nuclear disarmament and related safety and environmental issues.’ The website is filled with stories of apparent corruption and mismanagement within the murky world of UK Nuclear Deterrence that rarely see the light of day, and which the mainstream media almost never publishes. It’s recent articles have included an in depth investigative report into widespread Ministry of Defence Police misconduct at the Atomic Weapons Establishment Burghfield, where, according to the NIS website, officers ‘had not been conducting their routine patrols and, in some cases, had been sleeping on the job’.
Submariner McNeilly’s decision to go public and publish an eighteen page dossier on the situation about HMS Vanguard, currently available for download from the NIS website, appears to have been motivated by personal concerns over the safety and security of others. Something which puts him on a par in many ways with Edward Snowden. Like Snowden, McNeilly went on the run soon after putting his report on-line, but within days of going ‘AWOL’, absent without leave, he was to find himself in Royal Navy Police Custody. Within a month he had been dishonourably discharged from the service and the issues that he had raised effectively kicked into the long grass as the mainstream media food frenzy subsided.
According to his testimony HMS Vanguard ‘was dogged by equipment failures’, whilst ‘Safety procedures were regularly disregarded, security procedures were casual, and secret information was accessible to unauthorised personnel.’ He also claimed that the wholesale rigging of ‘safety proficiency exams’ was commonplace due to a major problem with manpower shortages. A situation that was to result in key posts being filled by under-qualified staff. His attempts to change the situation from within having met with repeated failure, McNeilly was to published his account as a means of alerting the wider community to the ‘shockingly extreme conditions’ that Britain’s ‘nuclear weapons system is in.’ Confirmation that he was right is only now really starting to emerge.
Following the recent revelations in the ‘Sunday Times’ emphasis has been put on the missile system itself, which is American made, following a report by Patrick Evans for the BBC that the nosecap of an American missile that had also failed to launch had been recovered in the Bahamas. BBC revelations that Britain’s purchase of ‘the right to 58 missiles from a common pool held at the US Strategic Weapons Facility in Kings Bay, Georgia’ has led to further questions with regard to the extent of Trident’s independence. Further revelations by the Russian news service RT, that ‘US documents show Trident nuclear missiles have a track record of failure’, have also placed emphasis on the American components in the delivery system. The independent Baltimore based news service RNN also conducted a series of interviews with David Webb, current Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, following the ‘Sunday Times’ article, but again, the main focus of discussion was centred on the American components within the missiles themselves.
Earlier today Distract the Media spoke to a prominent UK tv insider who had been involved in the making of a series of documentaries about the training of a British Nuclear Submarine Commander more than a decade ago. In a candid discussion over coffee and breakfast he told our reporter how this ‘reminds me of when my company did ‘Submarine School’ and we spent most of the time filming standing down the film crew as the S93 couldn’t move forward in the water.’
Having begun his career as a junior researcher at Thames Television in London, he has written for a wide range of publications including 'The Brighton Reporter', 'Durham Town and Country', 'The Brighton and Hove People' and 'The New Celtic Review'. As an exhibited film maker he has been a regular contributor and award nominee at the Portobello Film Festival in London; and has seen his work shown at the annual London Film Makers' Convention at the prestigious Round House Theatre.
As well as receiving enthusiastic reviews from BBC Radio 4 and others for his book on Sir Walter Scott, his pioneering work as an Underground Film Maker on the fledgeling Goa Trance Scene has set him in a field of his own amongst many of his contemporaries; both in the UK, where he presently resides, and elsewhere. Current projects presently in hand include a book centred on his 'Legendary London' series of documentary films, which have stimulated an enthusiastic response from the likes of Glenda Jackson and others; and a novel set in France and Edinburgh during the eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment.
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