On 17th May the Sunday Herald (Scotland) ran an exclusive based on an authorised ‘report’ written by a junior submariner in which he claimed “Trident is an accident waiting to happen” and the story has since been picked up by media around the world. You can read the original piece in all its rambling glory here.
ET McNeilly, is a very junior rate who served for less than 2 years in the RN and has completed a single deterrent patrol, hardly in a position to pass credible judgement on submarine operations. Many of his claims are wildly inaccurate (eg. 65 metre diving depth for Vanguards) and much of it based on overheard conversations and gossip. The implication that a terrorist or even incompetent crewmen could actually launch a Trident missile with its multiple fail-safes is ludicrous.
His claim to be acting selflessly for national interest comes at a time of particular political sensitivity over Trident which must raise suspicion over his motives. He appears to have been on the hunt for problems from day one of joining up – not the behaviour of an average sailor. Did he join up with a political agenda perhaps encouraged or sponsored by one of the many nuclear disarmament groups? As McNeilly proves himself, there is room for further improvement in screening of personnel joining the naval service.
If at all credible, his ‘report’ suggests sometimes Standard Operating Procedures are ignored (something that happens at times for good reasons and in many other contexts). All vessels suffer major defects from time to time (even fully operational active vessels) but material state of at least two of the Vanguard class boats does not appear to be ideal. The decision to extend their lives and delay the successors can only exacerbate this. It is also an unavoidable fact that the shortage of experienced manpower, mostly fault of government cuts and mis-management, inevitably will impact on standards.
This half-baked story and accompanying media storm will inevitably damage the case for Trident & RN’s reputation, whatever the truth. The limited and terse official response could be better and may only fuel the fire with a credulous media lapping up any suggestion of cover ups. Unfortunately the security issues and technical complexity of the subject makes it very hard for officials to refute the allegations it detail.
The response from ex-submariners and those who have worked on the Trident program (and no longer have any official responsibilities or axe to grind) all say the allegations are mostly laughable and that McNeilly is just naive and deluded. Despite his promise to hand himself in, McNeilly was apprehended by MoD police at Edinburgh Airport on 19th May.
“Factually incorrect, anecdotal and frankly sensationalism. This isn’t whistleblowing.” Cdr Ryan Ramsey, RN retired, former “Teacher”, Submarine Command Course.
“I’ve spent 4 days dived in HMS Victorious. Trident is absolutely not an accident waiting to happen” Ali Kefford, Independent journalist
It should be noted that the RN has safely maintained the UK’s Continuous at Sea Deterrent since 1968. Submariners work in an inherently hostile and dangerous environment and although they have been several close calls, the RN has not lost a submarine at sea since 1951.
The RN has promised an investigation and we must never tolerate any shortcuts or economies in the security and maintenance of the deterrent. Frontline security at Faslane Naval Base remains exceptional and despite the best efforts of the media, SNP and CND, no one should be losing sleep over the security and viability of UK nuclear weapons.
- William McNeilly ‘spent a year planning for Trident dossier’ (Daily Telegraph)
- Official response to the story (MoD Media Blog)
- William McNeilly in military custody (The Guardian)
- Trident whistleblower needs to be listened to, even if he is exaggerating (Guardian)