The 'crass insensitivity' of Tower’s luxury dinner for arms dealers, days after poppy display

Event was held just days after ceramic poppy display was focus of Great War commemorations

The Tower of London has been accused of “crass insensitivity” by hosting a £240-a-head networking dinner for arms manufacturers days after its hugely popular sea of poppies made it the focus of the First World War commemorations.

Nearly 200 representatives of Britain’s arms industry, along with senior Ministry of Defence officials and foreign defence attachés, attended the unpublicised London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) event on Tuesday night.

The annual dinner, described by organisers as “acclaimed and influential” and a chance to “make new business connections”, was co-sponsored by Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defence company. The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, was the guest of honour.

In an apparent attempt to prevent the gathering becoming a focus for protests, the venue for the LCCI Defence and Security Dinner was kept quiet. Corporate guests paying up to £3,000 per table were told they would be advised of the location “upon registration”.

Campaigners yesterday criticised Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the independent charity which runs the Tower along with other venues including Hampton Court and Kensington Palace, for hosting an event designed to boost arms sales with memory still fresh of its Blood Swept Lands installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies to commemorate each of the British and Commonwealth fallen in the war. Some guests even tweeted photographs of remaining poppies, which were seen by some four million people.

Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against the Arms Trade, said: “On Remembrance Day, the Tower of London was a focus for remembering the horrendous loss of life in the First World War. It is disturbing that just weeks later it can play host to the very arms companies which profit from perpetuating war and conflict today. It is crassly insensitive and in extremely bad taste that this historic monument would do this so soon after providing such a high-profile focal point for Remembrance Day.”

It is the second year in a row that the defence dinner has been hosted at the Tower by HRP, which does not receive any public money and must rely on income from entrance fees and other sources to cover its costs. Last year it raised £5.4m (7 per cent of its £80m total income) from hosting events and receptions.

Following last year’s event, which was addressed by former GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban, the charity said it would consider drawing up an ethical policy for hosting corporate events but it was unclear yesterday whether such guidelines had been formulated. HRP is the latest museum or heritage organisation to be criticised for hosting corporate events for defence manufacturers. The London Transport Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum have previously been accused of putting finances ahead of ethical considerations by accepting sponsorship or hosting events linked to arms companies.

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The LCCI defence and security event, which included a pre-dinner drinks reception in the famous White Tower before a “luxurious three-course meal” in the Civil War-era New Armouries, was attended by 175 people and included a speech by General Houghton.

Publicity material for the 2013 dinner stated it offered the opportunity to “forge and strengthen strategic alliances” as well as “raise your profile, make new business connections and entertain your clients at this acclaimed and influential event”.

The event was organised by the LCCI’s defence and security committee group, whose members include representatives of BAE Systems, Britain’s largest defence company, as well as French-owned Thales and Lockheed.

In a statement, the LCCI said: “This event is attended by those who work or have an interest in the defence and security industry, including MoD and military personnel.Venues are chosen based on considerations including cost, availability, their relevance to the sector and on feedback from our members.”

In a statement, HRP said: “As an independent charity receiving no Government or Crown funding, we rely on income generated by commercial activities to care for the palaces and keep them open for people to enjoy.

“Our events policy states that we will work with clients who appropriately reflect the status and dignity of the palaces. In our judgement, the decision to host an event by the London Chamber of Commerce is consistent with this policy.”

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