On Monday, Able Seaman William McNeilly handed himself in to the Military Police at Edinburgh Airport following his public release of an 18-page dossier on Trident. McNeilly, via a Facebook status on Monday prior to handing himself in, spoke of how he had spent 12 months compiling the evidence of several of the major security and procedural concerns during his time aboard the submarine HMS Victorious.
HMS Victorious is one of the British Navy’s 4-strong nuclear fleet, in charge of patrolling and protecting the United Kingdom in the event of nuclear attack. This fleet acts as the constant patrol of the UK’s much-debated nuclear deterrent system, Trident. One of the submarines is on constant patrol at an undisclosed location at any given time – referred to as the Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD) in McNeilly’s dossier. Each of these submarines can carry up to 16 nuclear missiles on board during patrolling periods. A recent Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) memorandum identifies that – other than France and the US – no other state with nuclear capacity maintains a CASD system.
Although a highly subjective account – as far as informal reports go – McNeilly mentions many worrying aspects of life aboard the HMS Victorious. The 18-page dossier describes how frequent safety concerns, raised by McNeilly, fell on deaf ears within the chain of command. Such concerns included fires in torpedo rooms, control rooms full of faulty equipment and, perhaps most jarringly, the coverup of a collision between HMS Vanguard and a French submarine in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.
The apparent lack of appropriate care in the environment surrounding one of the most deadly, and supposedly advanced, weapons defence systems on Earth makes for an unnerving read, and questions of safety and security are themes that run throughout the length of the dossier. As the mainstream media began to pick up coverage of McNeilly’s dossier on Monday, another navy whistleblower – this time a communications and information technology specialist, Euan Bryson – came forward to air similar concerns. Bryson, having served onboard both the HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious, agreed with McNeilly’s concerns of safety and security, noting that a fellow seaman was able – on numerous occasions – to pass through security checkpoints using a blue bankcard after losing the official Royal Navy identification card after a night out.
Since Monday, public and parliamentary support for McNeilly has gained momentum, with many calling for for clemency and protection from prosecution. A Change.org petition has, as this article was published, reached 4,610 signatures. Several MPs – including Brendan O’Hara, the SNP MP whose constituency of Argyll and Bute, including the Faslane submarine base – have praised McNeilly for coming forward. O’Hara stated that he would be writing a letter to Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, to voice his concerns of the allegations.
The dossier comes at a politically sensitive time, as the SNP – quickly becoming the defacto opposition to the Conservative government in Westminster, as Labour remain embroiled in a leadership power struggle – have publicly opposed a renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent system. The Conservatives have pledged a renewal of Trident, estimated to cost around £100 billion.
The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – a pressure group with a primary aim for Trident and its potential future renewal by 2028 to be scrapped – has voiced similar concerns to that of McNeilly, of security and safety onboard the submarine class responsible for the management of the Trident deterrent system.
David Cameron, ahead of the Queen’s Speech next week, is expected to release a public statement regarding the dossier and resultant fallout in the media and Parliament, if media scrutiny continues. Fallon, the Defence Secretary, is similarly expected to launch a review into security procedures and safety protocols within the Trident nuclear deterrent system.
In recent hours, several experienced human rights lawyers have come forward to offer legal aid for McNeilly in what is set to become a very public headache for the British Royal Navy as well as David Cameron’s newly elected Conservative government.
To read the 18-page dossier, written by Able Seaman William McNeilly, please visit Wikileaks. For more information about the Trident system and other alternatives, please read the previously referenced Rusi (Royal United Services Institute) memorandum.
To sign a petition asking for the release of AS William McNeilly, please visit Change.org