G4S insider: 'Management never seemed to be in control'
A whistleblower within the company's Olympic operation writes about incompetence behind the scenes
Sunday 02 September 2012
Managerial training consisted of several mainly useless days in a dilapidated school listening to dilapidated tutoring. The class was entirely male and the general intelligence level seemed very low. "What does a terrorist look like?" the tutor asked. A white middle-aged man replied: "Asian, wearing combat gear, and carrying a rucksack." I didn't know if that was a genuine belief, a racist comment or crass stupidity.
The following week, I attended the Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence training. It was given by security industry instructors who peppered their banter with the use of phrases like "coloured people" and "our black and Asian friends".
I eventually got posted to a London venue. There were no handover briefings, no start of shift briefings, no direct chain of command, no sight of operational plans, no involvement in safety and security procedures, no evacuation drills, no easily accessible information.
Teams were split into three general types – the Old Lags, the "Club 18-21" and the DSS people. The Old Lags were experienced security guards who knew the score and were proficient in opening and closing a gate. The "Club 18-21" were kids awaiting A-level results or at university. The DSS people were made to apply, and I suspect pushed through by G4S to make up the numbers. Some had special needs, were on disability allowances, found English hard and were often of low intelligence.
Our G4S team, supplemented by other guards, then moved to a rural Olympic site. The infrastructure, with the heavy presence of the army, gave it the appearance of a vast military base. The perimeter fence was in wooded and hilly fields. There were an expected 20,000 public each day, plus the hundreds of volunteers, media, police, army and assorted staff. It was quickly obvious that G4S would have to recruit the population of a small state to man this.
I will accept no criticism of any guard who may have fallen asleep. The shifts were 14 hours; the bus travel to accommodation sometimes took hours, and the average sleep time was four hours. No wonder non-attendance was so high. It became a constant catch-up to find replacement guards or managers. One manager was removed for sending two female guards on night patrol without a torch, and giving a radio to a guard with a hearing disability. The chaotic scheduling system put people in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The inability of G4S to recruit enough staff to mount three shifts of shorter hours, instead of brutal 14-hour shifts, created the problem. Abnormally long shifts meant guards went hours without relief or sustenance, search staff missed things, X-ray scanner operators were unable to take proper visual breaks. Management never seemed in control, as they were never given the resources.
As the big day approached, the general feeling was that G4S were making the place look untidy. Most Locog staff never said hello to the guards in green. So while Mo and Jessica were being applauded on the canteen big screens, multiracial kids working for G4S were being looked down upon.
After the finals, there was a directive that all people were to be searched for stolen goods. I thought they meant bikes, televisions, cameras. No. Locog meant bits of plastic, cardboard, discarded bibs and any detritus that would be thrown away. G4S staff had to undergo unwarranted abuse as they searched people. The police were eventually called in.
I've seen great things. I've shaken hands with Olympic medal winners. I've even liked Boris Johnson. But it worries me that G4S is still getting government contracts and taking on policing roles. Nick Buckles [G4S chief executive]: you have generally abused the British taxpayer, and moreover abused your staff. You should get the sack, and a haircut.
In a statement, a G4S spokesman said yesterday: "These are unsubstantiated claims and therefore not appropriate for us to respond to as we do not recognise them to be true."
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