Firm in row over unpaid stewards for Jubilee to have Olympic fire safety role

 

The security company embroiled in the row over unpaid workers at the Queen's Jubilee celebrations has been given a leading role in fire safety at the London Olympics, The Independent has learnt.

Close Protection UK will supply fire marshals to the Games next month after winning a competitive tendering process. It also emerged that over the past four years, Molly Prince, Close Protection UK's managing director, has headed five firms – CPUK.com (which is a different company to Close Protection UK), Voluntary Event Services, Angel Event Solutions, Event Safety Solutions and Venusec – which filed no accounts and were dissolved. On Sunday morning, 30 jobseekers and 50 apprentices were told to sleep under London Bridge where they had to change into their security uniform in public, before working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain. That night they were taken to a sodden campsite.

Ms Prince, 46, blamed logistical problems, saying the workers – 30 unpaid and 50 apprentices on £2.80 an hour – should have stayed on the coach that brought them from around the UK before doing their shift. She said: "It was badly handled and for that we have extensively apologised. We're not in the business of exploiting free labour."

It had been known that Close Protection had a contract to provide security at the Olympics – but not that 50 of its workers would also be shepherding spectators to safety in the event of a fire.

The latest accounts for Close Protection UK Ltd, to 31 March 2011, show that the business – which is run out of a small office in Wigan, Lancashire – had total current assets of £35,000 and current liabilities of £185,000.

Lord Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, last night questioned the firm's role in a letter of complaint to Home Secretary Theresa May. "I want to know how did this company, given its economic background, get a contract to handle fire safety and security." Earlier, he attacked the company, accusing it of displaying a complete disregard for the social conditions of cheap labour.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said the revelations that people working for the company without pay were forced to sleep under London Bridge amounted to a "breach of the responsibility of the company under the agreements in the industry to have proper regard to their employees".

One woman, who worked at the pageant for Close Protection as part of a workfare scheme but did not want to be named, claimed the workers were told they would start work at 5am but by 3.30am had still not been given somewhere other than the street to sleep.

Yesterday morning, even before the nature of its role in the safety precautions put in place by the Games organisers was revealed, Lord Prescott asked: "Is this the Olympic model?"

In response, Ms Prince said: "It was a logistics error – they arrived almost two hours early." She added: "We take the welfare of our staff and apprentices very seriously. The nature of the work is such that we often sleep on coaches."

A London 2012 spokesperson said: "Close Protection UK is providing some fire marshal services for us. All employees will be paid the London living wage. CPUK was appointed via a competitive tender process."

The Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, said: "What happened over the Jubilee was completely unacceptable and it won't be happening again. Anyone working at the Olympics will need to be properly trained."

Torch relay reaches Dublin

The former world 5,000m champion and Olympic silver medallist Sonia O'Sullivan carried the Olympic flame at St Stephen's Green in Dublin yesterday on the 19th day of the torch relay.

Jedward-mania also hit the Irish capital as the pop duo joined 39 other torchbearers making the historic journey through the city. With just 50 days until the opening ceremony, organisers announced that 43,000 more tickets would go on sale tomorrow, with another 300,000 on offer before the Games. PA

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