By Bob Duncan
Scotland has been drawn into the London Olympic security fiasco as it emerged officers from Strathclyde Police are to be drafted in to help fill the security gaps left by under-performing security firm G4S.
Home Secretary Theresa May has been forced to update MPs on the shambles as it emerged that police from nine forces were being drafted in alongside the extra 3,500 military personnel to help with venue security.
Last week, the Home Secretary told MPs that ministers were only told of the “absolute gap in the numbers” on Wednesday. But Ms May denied it was a “shambles” and insisted there was “no question of Olympic security being compromised”.
However there were questions over these claims after it emerged concerns were raised back in April after an audit of G4S was carried out by Deloitte and Touche.
Speaking in the Commons on Monday, she claimed G4S had “repeatedly” assured the UK Government that they would be able to meet the arranged staff numbers. However it quickly became apparent that security was in danger of being compromised and army regiments, some already earmarked for disbandment as a result of MoD cutbacks, were hastily given notice of imminent re-deployment.
The army were quickly joined by police forces as the scale of the security shortfall emerged. Assistant metropolitan Police Commissioner Chris Allison, the National Olympic Security Co-ordinator, said: “Nine venue forces have now deployed police officers to support security regimes at venues in their areas.”
Mr Allison said: “Working closely with [Olympics organisers] Locog, G4S and the military we are providing support to ensure the necessary levels of security are in place as venues move into lock down and the security regimes step up.
“Defensive searches, a key part of the Olympic safety and security plan, always needed to be delivered within a tight time frame. Our deployments are to ensure that this goes ahead and the plan continues to be delivered.”
He went on: “Whilst some of the activity police officers are undertaking was not anticipated, plans were put in place to allow us to do this. Forces are making sure they make the best use of their resources locally to do all they can to minimise the impact on local policing.”
Mr Allison added: “Delivering a safe and secure Games is a priority, but we will not compromise on keeping our local communities safe. We will continue to work closely with all our partners to get the job done, and these current deployments will be kept under constant review. At the present time this is not impacting upon our existing plans for the safety and security operation.”
The forces involved include Dorset, Surrey, Hertfordshire, Northumbria, South Wales, Strathclyde, West Midlands, Thames Valley Police, and Greater Manchester Police.
Scottish police officers will be forced to work extra hours to “plug the gap” in Olympic security, the force has confirmed. It said the shortfall would be met through overtime or altering duties.
Strathclyde Police Assistant Chief Constable Fiona Taylor said that the shortfall of qualified security guards meant Scottish Olympic events would require more officers from the force than had been expected. However, in accordance with force policy, she would not discuss the numbers of officers affected or whether holidays or other leave had been cancelled as a result.
Ms Taylor said: “Due to a shortfall of G4S staff attending at events in Strathclyde, our officers will be plugging the gap. We are in communication with Locog (the Games’ Organising Committee) and we will be deciding locally how this will work and constantly reviewing the arrangements.”
She added that other Scottish forces would not be asked to send any officers to Strathclyde to assist, and that event security would not be compromised as a result of the changes. It is likely that officers will be drafted in on days off, or asked to work longer shifts, rather than be deployed from other duties in the force area.
Ms Taylor added: “There are things we can do before we take cops off the front line.”
The cost of policing the Olympics in Glasgow was originally set at £3.25 million, the bill being met by the force’s own budget, but that now looks certain to rise. Senior officers said if it does they will be appealing to the Home Office for compensation. The force, which is also preparing the biggest armed presence Glasgow has ever seen, is now in daily dialogue with G4S to determine what the shortfall will be.
Jenny Marra, Scottish Labour’s community safety spokeswoman, said: “It is unacceptable that the public pay for the failings of G4S. I hope that Strathclyde Police ensure that they recoup any costs from providing more officers to police the Olympic events in Glasgow.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “G4S should have retained their side of the bargain, and the people who are losing out are our hard-working police officers who would have been enjoying a well-earned break.”
Clive Chamberlain, chairman of Dorset Police Federation, said so far the Army has covered for the shortfall in G4S staff. He said: “On a daily basis it’s a lottery as to how many staff are going to turn up. The best they’ve managed is 15% not turning up, and on the worst occasions they have been 59% down. It’s a fiasco, it’s an absolute debacle.
“My biggest fear is that G4S are now panic-recruiting people to get as many people as they can into the organisation. Two weeks before the Games, we are going to have hundreds or thousands of people that are going to need to be properly vetted, that comes down to the police. What proper training will they have had before they start? It’s very, very worrying.”
West Midlands Police Federation chairman Ian Edwards said the force has had to provide 150 officers per day to cover a hotel in Warwickshire where footballers are staying.
Mr Edwards said: “We are providing 150 officers per day to cover the security arrangements at the hotel, officers from front line policing and neighbourhood teams. The worst-case scenario is that we end up having to find another 200 officers for the security at the City of Coventry stadium, and we’ve yet to find out what the shortfall is in Birmingham.
He added: “It’s chaos, absolute chaos. You shouldn’t lose your local police officer because of the Olympics. Communities are suffering because a private company has failed to deliver on a contract.”
With less than two weeks until the opening ceremony, ministers insisted the Games would be secure and dismissed the firm’s failure to provide the promised 10,000 security guards as no more than a “hitch”. But hundreds of officers are now being deployed, in addition to the 3,500 servicemen and women who were called in last week.
In addition to the Scottish police officers, a battalion of Scottish troops had previously been drafted in to provide extra security for the Olympics. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders have already taken up their new duties.
The emergency deployment was announced last week, just days after the unit was told it was effectively being disbanded because of defence cuts. The Ministry of Defence had confirmed the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – the 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland – were to be downgraded to a so-called Public Duty Company as part of plans to reduce the army by 20,000 troops.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that 5 Scots, who are currently based at Canterbury in Kent, are among those to be asked to help, but would not confirm how many soldiers will be involved.
A source told the Sun newspaper: “I thought the Government didn’t need 5 Scots any more. These guys who have risked their lives on the front line will now cancel their plans and step in yet again. These guys are being treated like second-class citizens.”
There have already been concerns raised over the role of army personnel and who will carry authority in situations where civilian police and soldiers are working together. Some analysts have suggested that military personnel may lack the skills required to deal with protests and crowd control.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday she has sought reassurances from the Home Secretary over the supply of security staff at the eight football matches that will be held at Hampden between July 25 and August 3.
Ms May has previously said there is “no question” of Olympic security being affected by problems at contractor G4S. However, Strathclyde Police said on Thursday that extra police officers would be deployed at Hampden if there were too few stewards and security guards.
Ms Sturgeon said she was concerned about reports that training for security staff was behind schedule.
She said: “Having the Olympic football tournaments here in Scotland is an exciting chance for people across the country to get in to the spirit of the games, however the priority for the Scottish Government is to ensure that visiting teams and spectators alike are both safe and secure.
“It is particularly worrying to learn of suggestions that, in some instances, training may not be delivered to G4S staff until after the football has actually taken place in Glasgow. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and his officials have been keeping in close contact with Strathclyde Police and Mr MacAskill is confident in their ability to police the Games.
“Nevertheless we would be grateful for a firm and immediate assurances that any individual being employed at Hampden will be suitably qualified and trained.
“The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and his officials have been keeping in close contact with Strathclyde Police and Mr MacAskill is confident in their ability to police the Games. Nevertheless we would be grateful for a firm and immediate assurances that any individual being employed at Hampden will be suitably qualified and trained.”
Earlier this week the Scottish Government announced it was giving away 50,000 of the 250,000 tickets to the football games at Hampden for free to children and young people. This came amid reports of poor ticket sales for the matches to be played at the National Stadium.
There has also been concerns over the benefit the London Olympics will bring to Scotland with 81% of Scots surveyed saying they didn’t think there would be any benefit.