07 August 2008
One of the most sensitive defence sites in the country will no longer have armed guards the MoD has confirmed.
A MoD review concluded that armed guards are not needed at RAF Welford in Berkshire, despite the base being one of the largest munitions stores in Europe. The base’s contents are so sensitive that it falls under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), a law that was created to protect specific military bases from terrorist threats.
Currently MoD police have the power to detain intruders and use their weapons if necessary. Under the new plans this will change.
The MoD’s conclusion was the same as the one reached by a private consulting agency in January.
MoD officials sought to play down worries that the base will be more vulnerable to attack. A number of new security measures will be put in place over the next few months including high tech detection equipment similar to what is used to secure national borders and the munitions will be moved to more secure locations on the base.
Once the security upgrades have been made the armed MoD police will be removed and replaced by unarmed guards. The guards however will not have the power to detain intruders The Thames Valley police will provide backup if necessary.
Conservative MP Richard Benyon called the idea of relying on local police as a backup for securing a sensitive arms depot "fanciful."
"They [Thames Valley Police] are so thin on the ground in West Berkshire that if there was a major incursion at the base, we just do not have the resources locally. It’s not like there is a mobile armed response team cruising around the M4.
"I do not want taxpayers to feel like they are picking up the tab for a cost saving exercise, if that is what it is," Benyon told Newbury Today.
MoD police officials are unhappy with the recommendation as well. In January the chair of the MoD police federation, Eamon Keating, labelled the move a cost saving measure at the worst time.
The base has a history of intrusions because many of the munitions are sent directly to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2003, four peace protestors managed to enter the base undetected and access one of the munitions depots.