Residents warned of air-defence system and ‘some sort of Army base’ in their block of flats
Surface-to-air missiles are set to be deployed on top of a residential block of flats this summer to protect the Olympic site in east London from airborne terrorist threats.
People in Bow were handed a Ministry of Defence (MoD) leaflet yesterday alerting them that a squad of 10 soldiers would be based in their gated, private estate during the Games. Missiles installed there will only be fired as a “last resort”, it said.
Brian Whelan, 28, a journalist and resident of the block, said: “They are going to have a test run next week, putting high-velocity missiles on the roof just above our apartment.”
The move is part of what is set to be the biggest peace-time security operation in the capital, with more than 40,000 staff reported to be involved in guarding venues and protecting competitors and the millions of visitors heading to the Games. FBI agents from the US are also expected.
Mr Whelan added: “We have an MoD leaflet saying the building is the only suitable place in the area. It says there will be 10 officers plus police present 24/7. We have a gym and a pool and people have seen them there so it makes you think it will be some sort of Army base – it’s not ideal.”
It is not clear whether the building’s owners will be paid for allowing the estate to be used. Mr Whelan said: “The company which runs the place put up posters and gave out the leaflets today. The general tone was ‘Great news, aren’t we lucky’… [but] I’ve looked these [missiles] up and I don’t think they’re the kind of thing you can fire over a highly populated area like Tower Hamlets – think of the debris.”
Last month, the MoD was criticised for planning to put missiles, troop carriers and jets near protected woodland in South-east London. Eltham and Plumstead MP Clive Efford said he would take up the matter with Phillip Hammond, the Defence Secretary. “I would have expected to have been consulted before this was agreed,” Mr Efford said. “This is a protected area boasting rare plants, such as the corky-fruited water dropwort.”
One of his Labour colleagues, Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander, added that her constituency had also been sized up for sites. She said: “I can’t say I like the idea of missiles on Blackheath but if the military and security experts think that is necessary… those defence systems will have to go somewhere. I think local people have a right to know what is being considered.”
An MoD spokesman said last night: “As announced before Christmas, ground-based air defence systems could be deployed as part of a multi-layered air security plan, including fast jets and helicopters, which will protect the skies over London during the Games.” He added that “no final decision” on deploying ground-based air defence systems had been taken.