3,500 soldiers set to bed down in a 'prison' warehouse

Grade 1 listed Tobacco Docks tops MoD's barracks shortlist, writes Andrew Johnson

At least Tobacco Dock looks like a barracks. The former tobacco warehouse in the shabby end of London's Docklands is thought to top the Ministry of Defence's shortlist as it desperately scrambles to find accommodation for the 3,500 extra troops drafted in to guard the Olympics.

With its curved corners and sheer windowless brick walls the Grade 1 listed warehouse, built in 1811, could also pass as a desert fort. Or a prison.

The building, one of the most important in London according to English Heritage, is owned by an investment company called Messila House, which in turn is owned by the secretive Kuwaiti Al-Hasawi family who have just bought Nottingham Forest football club.  

In the 1990s it was turned, bizarrely, into an olde-English style shopping mall. Inside there are two floors of York paving stones, red telephone boxes and iron lanterns. There are no customers, though, they never came. And no tenants, they didn't come either, and all the shop units are empty glass hutches where unfortunate troops will no doubt find themselves sweating in the double greenhouse effect caused by the large glass roof across the entire structure.

The elongated arched entrances are gated and mostly boarded up with chip-board now. On one side two rusting iron tall ships – the Three Sisters and the Sea Lark – cry out for a lick of paint in dry dock. On the other an overgrown wasteland waits for the economy to turn so it can be built on. It is all a far cry from the swanky St Katherine's Dock development, full of yachts and restaurants, two minutes up the road.

The MoD said yesterday that some of the extra 3,500 troops would be placed in existing London barracks such as Regent's Park; or at the make-shift camp site in Hainault or HMS Ocean, moored on the Thames, were the 11,000 troops already earmarked for the Games will bed down. But the majority will have to be placed elsewhere and quickly before the Games get underway.

"Tobacco Dock is exactly the sort of place we're looking at and there aren't too many places like that – large areas that are easily adaptable," the spokesman said. He added that no leases have yet been signed but they will need to be in the next couple of days if the necessities of an army – portaloos, kitchens, camp beds – are to be installed in time.

Soldiers will, of course, sleep anywhere – even in the street according to the Falklands Marine commander Major General Julian Thompson.

But with public and military up in arms over the debacle that has seen many squaddies lose holidays and recuperation after exacting tours of Afghanistan, the last thing government ministers need is to make them unhappier.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said yesterday he was concentrating on ensuring the troops were given "reasonable" accommodation, with "good food, good recreational facilities, good wi-fi and broadband connectivity". He'll be aware the public is watching to see if it is delivered.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick