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UK Politics

Theresa May responds to criticism over Olympics security 'shambles'

Home Secretary called to House of Commons amid opposition accusations of 'huge Home Office shambles'

The Government today called in 3,500 soldiers to help provide Olympic security checks after the private firm G4S admitted it would not be able to train enough staff in time.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was called to the House of Commons to explain the last minute decision to increase the number of troops involved in the games to 17,000.

She said the move to boost numbers had become necessary yesterday after G4S admitted it would not be able to provide “the required number of guards for all the venues within the timescales available”.

It decision is embarrassing for the Government as it comes on top of continuing delays at Heathrow border checkpoints and just 15 days before the games start.

David Cameron’s official spokesman admitted that it was “unfortunate”.

Ms May was repeatedly questioned on why it had taken so long for the G4S staff problems to come to light.

She said that ministers had been aware of the possibility that extra troops would be needed for a couple of weeks and had drawn up contingency plans with the Ministry of Defence.

However it was only at a meeting yesterday that it became apparent that G4S would not be able to honour its commitment and the decision to mobilise the troops was taken.

She said: “As the venue security exercise has got underway concerns have arisen about the ability of G4S to deliver the required number of guards for all the venues within the timescale available.

“G4S has now agreed that it would be prudent to deploy additional military support to provide greater reassurance.”

She admitted that in some cases this would mean that some of the troops affected would have to cancel leave and some would come directly from operations overseas.

However Ms May said that 10,000 Olympics and Paralympics tickets had been donated to armed services through Tickets for Troops.

A further 17,000 tickets were also being made available to troops for the dress rehearsals of the opening and closing ceremonies to recognise their extra commitment.

Overall, a 23,700-strong security force for the Games will include a mix of military, private security guards and at least 3,000 unpaid London 2012 volunteers.

Military personnel will also be involved in specialist support roles including air security, search teams, communications and logistics.

Ms May said there remained no “specific threat” or “increased threat” to the games.

But Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “G4S has let the country down. We have literally had to send in the troops.”

Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary said making the announcement this close to the start of the Games “really looks like another huge Home Office shambles”.

Ms May suggested it was likely that G4S would have to pay compensation for failing to honour it contract – but added that was a matter for the Games organisers Locog.

Retired Colonel Richard Kemp, a former UK commander in Afghanistan, said the development would hit troops “very hard indeed”.

“Many of the soldiers that are coming - this extra 3,500 - I understand are soldiers who have just returned from Afghanistan or about to deploy to Afghanistan, so they are people who I imagine are getting ready to go on leave with their families,” he said.

”As always when you give any part of the armed forces a task they will do it extremely well, extremely professionally and with a smile on their face.

“But we shouldn't forget also that many of these soldiers are people who have been told in the last few days that they are going to be made redundant, that their regiments are being scrapped and they are under great pressure already. The wider morale in the armed forces now is very fragile and this will simply add to that fragility.“

Speaking on a visit to the Olympic Park, London Mayor Boris Johnson denied there was a security problem.

“I wouldn't say there are problems with security in the sense that everybody knows it's going to be a safe and secure Games,” he said.

”What you've got is a lot of belt and braces going on in the final stages.

“Everybody is concerned to put the final nails in place - we always expected loads of military and I think they'll do a great job.”