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.”
In pictures: 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' poppy installation in London
In pictures: 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' poppy installation in London
A photograph of Cpl Thomas William Belton of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry at the gates of the Tower of London poppy installation
Visitors view the "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" in the moat area of the Tower of London in central London
FP PHOTO / LEON NEAL
Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha each lay a poppy at an art installation, at the Tower of London
Tube closures and warnings of a crush of visitors couldn’t keep half-term crowds from Paul Cummins’ ceramic poppies
'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by artist Paul Cummins, made up of 888,246 ceramic poppies fills the moat of the Tower of London, to commemorate the First World War in London
Volunteers continue to assemble an installation entitled 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by artist Paul Cummins
'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by artist Paul Cummins, made up of 888,246 ceramic poppies fills the moat of the Tower of London, to commemorate the First World War
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Red ceramic poppies that form part of the art installation "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" are seen at the Tower of London in London. The evolving art installation, which will be completed on 11 November, will create a commemoration for the centenary of World War One
Crowds gather to see the red ceramic poppies that form part of the art installation "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" at the Tower of London in London
An aerial view of the Tower of London, surrounded by ceramic poppies in a field of rememberance which started in July 2014 and will end with the last poppy being plave on Armistice day 11 November 2014
War Horse's Joey and Michael Morpurgo visit the Tower of London poppies
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh visit the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red evolving art installation at the Tower of London
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh visit the installation
Three generations on the military, Chelsea Pensioner Albert Willis, Yeoman Warder Paul Cunilffe and Captain of the Grenadier Guard Joe Robinson plant poppies at the 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' evolving art installation at the Tower of London. 888,246 poppies will be planted in the moat by volunteers with the last poppy being planted on the 11 November 2014. Each poppy represents a British or Colonial fatality in the First World War
A general view at the 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' evolving art installation at the Tower of London
Chelsea Pensioner Albert Willis plants a poppy at the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red evolving art installation at the Tower of London
Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry visit The Tower of London's 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' ceramic poppy installation by artist Paul Cummins, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of First World War in London
Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge adds a ceramic poppy watched by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge as she visits The Tower of London's 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' ceramic poppy installation
Catherine, Duchess Of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry join dignitaries as they visit the Tower of London's ceramic poppy field
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.
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.”