Tower residents fight missile plan

 

Plans to station surface-to-air missiles on the roof of a tower block during the Olympics could expose residents to a terrorist attack, the High Court was told today.

Residents of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone, east London, are fighting to prevent the ground-based air defence system being deployed above their heads.

They are applying for permission to seek judicial review on the grounds their human rights have been breached because they were not consulted fairly and properly over the proposals.

Marc Willers, representing the residents, told a judge: "It is the unprecedented siting of a military base or missile site in peace time on English soil that brings us to this court."

He said of the residents: "They have a fully justified fear that installation or deployment of the missile system on the roof of the Fred Wigg Tower gives rise to the additional risk that the tower itself may become the focus of a terrorist attack."

Mr Willers said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was suggesting the fear was unjustified when one looked at it from an objective point of view.

But Mr Willers told Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, sitting at London's High Court: "We would submit that your lordship can come to the conclusion, and should come to the conclusion, that that fear is not just genuine and legitimate but justified given the nature of the forthcoming occasion - the Olympic Games - and given the nature of the deployment and the current threat level, which is said to be 'substantial"'.

Mr Willers said such a potential attack by terrorists might be no more than "to make a statement - an evil statement, but a statement nevertheless".

Martin Howe, senior partner with solicitors Howe and Co, who are instructed by the local residents' association, said before today's hearing tenants of the block's 117 flats, which are home to hundreds of children, were "very afraid" of the proposals.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is accused by the association of breaching Article 8 and Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect an individual's right to private life and peaceful enjoyment of their home.

The MoD is also accused of failing to carry out an equality impact assessment (EIA) to take into account the needs of disabled residents.

If they are given permission for a full judicial review hearing, the residents are expected to seek an injunction prohibiting missile deployment until their legal challenge is heard.

Ministry of Defence officials plan to deploy the weapons across six sites in the capital.

The missiles, including rapier and high-velocity systems, will be in place from mid-July, the MoD confirmed last week.

A helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean, will also be moored in the River Thames and RAF Typhoon jets will be stationed ready at RAF Northolt and Puma helicopters at a Territorial Army centre in Ilford.

The other sites chosen to guard against any Olympic air threat are the Lexington Building in Tower Hamlets, east London; Blackheath Common and Oxleas Wood, both in south-east London; William Girling Reservoir in the Lea Valley reservoir chain in Enfield; and Barn Hill at Netherhouse Farm in Epping Forest.

The Defence Secretary says the ground-based air defence systems are "just one part of a comprehensive, multi-layered air security plan" which would provide "both reassurance and a powerful deterrent".

They would go ahead despite objections from a "small number of activists", he said.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The Government has reserved the right to extend the airspace restrictions, and the deployment of military assets, including ground-based air defence, if an assessment of the threat level warrants it."

Today in court, Mr Willers accused the MoD of being "extremely complacent" about the risk of the Fred Wigg Tower being targeted by terrorists, saying it was reasonable to infer from the evidence "that the risk is very real".

Allegations that a terrorist attack on the tower was a real threat were rejected by David Forsdick, appearing on behalf of the Defence Secretary and MoD.

Mr Forsdick told the court: "The MoD, intelligence agencies and the Metropolitan Police do not consider there is any credible threat to the Fred Wigg Tower from terrorism."

He said that view was supported by a witness statement from Dr Campbell McCafferty, head of UK counter-terrorism at the MoD.

The court also had evidence from General Sir Nick Parker, who had overall responsibility for national security in respect of liaison with civil authorities.

Both the civil and military arms of the MoD were telling the court "in no uncertain terms" there was no credible threat, Mr Forsdick told the judge.

The judge said he would give his ruling at 10.30am tomorrow.

PA

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