MoD admits it lost thousands of parts from nuclear weapons programme

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The Independent Online
To lose just a few components from the Trident nuclear weapons programme may be deemed to be merely careless, but losing thousands leads to red faces at the Ministry of Defence and the tightening up of accounting procedures.

The items, of 111 different varieties, are mainly connected with the Vanguard class submarine which carries Trident. Some are cable assemblies linking different sections of the missile system, and would prove a cause for security concern if they fell into wrong hands.

The parts went missing over a four-year period between l988 and 1992. The details were revealed in the MoD's accounts for l996. It is believed that the losses took place in transit between the United Sates and the Faslane submarine base in Scotland.

The disappearances led to an investigation by the MoD. Inquiries with shipping agencies, stock records, and interviews with navy personnel did not lead to recovery of the items, and they were formally declared lost in spring last year.

The ministry's inquiry had found no evidence of theft or fraud, and no employee will be disciplined or prosecuted. There is also no evidence to suggest that they have been obtained by terrorists or criminals although officials acknowledge that no one knows what exactly happened. Defence officials say that in the course of the Trident programme, millions of "line items" of spares have been procured by 70,000 contracts.

The minister for the armed forces, Dr John Reid said: "The MoD takes very seriously its duty to monitor its resources scrupulously. Its record on this matter is good. We have openly admitted that while 99.9 per cent of the spares in the Trident programme have been properly accounted for, 0.1 per cent are missing. Nevertheless, we have tightened our accounting procedures".

Campaigns officer for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, William Peden, said: "These are supposed to be the most heavily guarded parts in Britain. But these events are more reminiscent of Steptoe and Son."