Army chiefs have been dispatched to the headquarters of G4S to take a more active role in controlling security for the London Olympics, The Independent has learnt, following the company's failure to fulfil its £250m contract to guard the Games.
The move marks an escalation in the military's involvement in the saga and results from a sense of mounting concern and anger within Whitehall about G4S's inability to provide the promised security guards to guard athletes and spectators over the coming month. It will be viewed as a further wounding blow to the firm's credibility.
Police officers from nine forces are also now being drafted in to bolster the security operation at Olympic venues and athletes' hotels after G4S staff failed to appear.
The military may be asked to supply another 2,000 personnel, after already increasing numbers deployed to 17,000 following the failure of G4S to present the full quota of guards needed for the Olympics.
The planning for further reinforcements has been hampered, however, because both G4S and the Games organizers, Locog, have been unable so far to specify in which areas the latest shortfalls have occurred.
The dispatch of Army officers to G4S headquarters follows a growing feeling in the Ministry of Defence that it would be necessary to set up a combined headquarters with the military taking a more active role in the overall command of the Games.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, admitted yesterday the Government still could not predict how many G4S guards would turn up for duty next week at the Olympic Park. In her second emergency statement in four days on the crisis, she insisted ministers were only alerted to the crisis last week. But her version of events was contradicted by London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Currently, General Sir Nick Parker is the head of the Standing Joint Command for the security contribution of the armed forces, with G4S running its own operational centre, which has seen the arrival of three more officers from the military in the last few days to work alongside others already there.
But with such large numbers of forces personnel now involved in the security operation, MoD officials believe there has to be closer integration. A senior Whitehall official said: "It's become obvious G4S not only needs help with the numbers but also administration. That's the reason a small number of extra military personnel have been sent in. This may have to be increased and there's a case for further integration when it comes to command and control."
Nick Buckles, the embattled chief executive of G4S, will today be pressed by the Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee on the extent of the security shortfall and why ministers were not alerted earlier to the looming crisis.
Asked in the Commons how many guards would be supplied by G4S, Mrs May gave no figures, replying: "The precise balance of the number who will be provided will become clear over the next few days." Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: "It is incomprehensible that with 11 days to go the Home Secretary still doesn't know how many staff G4S are likely to provide."
Ms May repeated her insistence that the Home Office only discovered on Wednesday G4S would not be able to supply enough guards. But Mr Johnson said it emerged six or seven months ago the "sheer volume of security, the need, was perhaps greater than expected... Everybody organising the Olympics knew this was coming up... ages ago".
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "This is the world's biggest security company – it's got 650,000 employees. They could have used some employees – 10,000 isn't a large proportion. Instead G4S choose to recruit from scratch for the greatest show on earth." His committee is to summon Ms May to give evidence about the debacle, as well as Charles Farr, head of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, who is in charge of the Olympics' anti-terror strategy.
Security sources pointed out that although G4S is getting pilloried for the security debacle, part of the problem was caused by a cabinet committee headed by David Cameron approving a 500 per cent rise in the numbers of security guards from the original total of 2,000 in December. The request was passed on by Locog, which accepted the assurance of G4S they could deliver the extra numbers without problem. "G4S saw more pound signs and Locog didn't scrutinize at all the process G4S had in place for all this" said one official.
A MOD spokesman said: “Olympic Security remains a civilian and police led operation which has not changed. For many months the MOD has been working closely with G4S with military personnel embedded as Olympic security plans have developed. As you would expect, the level of liaison has increased as the Games has drawn closer and the military contribution has increased.”
G4S in numbers
657,000 Number of G4S employees. The company operates in 125 countries
£7.5bn Annual turnover last year for the firm, which was founded in 2004
£1bn Turnover in the UK, where it employs 45,000 staff
6 The number of UK prisons it runs, plus three secure training centres and two immigration centres
8.7 The percentage fall in G4S's share price yesterday
£300bn The value of the cash transported around Britain by G4S each year in its 2,300 secure vehicles