Protesters march on naval base as nuclear submarine sails in for refit

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The Independent Online

More than 300 activists pro-tested yesterday as the nuclear submarine HMS Vanguard arrived at Devonport naval base in Plymouth for a refit.

More than 300 activists pro-tested yesterday as the nuclear submarine HMS Vanguard arrived at Devonport naval base in Plymouth for a refit.

After an hour-long rally at Devonport Park, protesters marched to the dockyard under heavy police escort. About 300 police officers were on duty and a spokesman for the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary said there had been no trouble.

Vanguard is the first Trident-carrying class submarine to come in for the overhaul.

The march organiser Ian Avent, of the local campaigning group Cansar, said people had travelled from as far as Scotland and Southampton to attend the protest. He told the rally his concern was for the effect of radioactive discharges into the environment.

He said: "I have two lovely daughters of child-bearing age and I am concerned for them and for future generations. What is happening here today is wrong and dumping stuff into the environment is wrong."

The Cansar rally and march were supported by organisations including CND, the Socialist Alliance and Friends of the Earth.

Eighty-year-old Raymonde Hainton, who travelled from Exeter to join the protests, said: "I am here today because I am totally opposed to the whole Trident system.

"I think it is highly dangerous, useless, expensive, immoral and illegal under international law. They should not be refitting HMS Vanguard, they should be scrapping it."

The 490ft submarine first appeared off Plymouth breakwater at about 8am. Helicopters circled overhead as Vanguard, flying a long white decommissioning pennant, was towed up the Tamar estuary.

During her journey she was surrounded by a flotilla of boats carrying Royal Marines and Ministry of Defence Police.

Britain's nuclear deterrent is made up of four submarines carrying Trident missiles. Each vessel normally has 16 warheads on board. All of Vanguard's nuclear weapons were removed before her arrival in Plymouth.

The Government awarded the contract to refit the giant submarines to Devonport Management Ltd (DML) nine years ago. It secured the deal ahead of the Rosyth yard in Scotland. The yards waged a fierce battle to try to secure the lucrative contract, each fearing that if it lost, thousands of jobs would have to be shed.

Vanguard's refit will be done inside a specially reinforced dock capable of withstanding an earthquake. But she will not enter the dock immediately because trials still need to be run before the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate will grant permission for active commissioning.

Commodore Ric Cheadle, commander of Devonport naval base, said yesterday was "a great day for Plymouth". He reassured the public: "DML and the naval base have an outstanding nuclear safety record, built up over the last 30 years."

He said Vanguard's arrival also served to remind people of the important role the submarines played in ensuring Britain's strategic deterrent.