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Monday, July 16, 2012
London’s Olympic Games is not threatened by a major security contractor’s failure to find enough staff, the head of the city’s organising committee and ministers said yesterday, seeking to quell a political storm before athletes arrive.
Just days ago, the government announced it would draft in 3,500 extra troops as cover after contractor G4S admitted it was unlikely to train the guards it had promised under its £284m contract in time.
The news — two weeks before the start of the games on July 27 — prompted concerns over the safety of athletes and spectators, and raised fears that those trying to get into venues would face long queues to get through security.
"[Security] has not been compromised," Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Olympic organising committee told BBC radio.
"This is not about numbers. This is simply about the mix. We will have a safe and secure games.
"Would I prefer not to be dealing with this two weeks out? The answer, of course, is yes."
Safety has been at the top of organisers’ list of concerns ever since four young British Islamists killed 52 people in suicide bomb attacks in the capital the day after London was awarded the games in 2005.
Last month, Jonathan Evans, head of the MI5 domestic intelligence agency, warned the games presented an attractive target. While officials say there is nothing to indicate any attack is being planned, holes in the security apparatus have been highlighted before thousands of athletes and officials start arriving today.
The Observer yesterday cited an unnamed senior border official as saying that suspects on government watch lists were being allowed into Britain without proper checks because inexperienced recruits were being used to man borders.
John Vine, independent chief inspector of borders, has warned that staff who have only basic training and ask fewer questions have been drafted in to deal with huge queues at passport control at Heathrow.
But a border force spokesman said Mr Vine’s inspection had shown staff were fully aware of the checks they needed to make. "All contingency staff deployed to the border are fully trained and supported by experienced border force officers at all times."
The security operation, the biggest ever conducted in Britain in peacetime, is now in full swing, involving all sections of the armed forces. Restrictions on the airspace over London and much of south-east England were brought in on Saturday.
But the issue of the venue guards has dominated the headlines all week, another headache for a government struggling with a raft of public relations disasters and a moribund economy.
Critics want to know why the government and organisers only realised there would be a shortfall so close to the start of the games, with G4S chief executive Nick Buckles saying they had realised just over a week ago.
About 23,000 guards are due to be on duty, to search and screen spectators, handle queue management and protect the perimeters.
G4S was supposed to provide 10,400 of these and train up over 6,000 students and volunteers. But so far just 4,000 are ready with another 9,000 in the pipeline.
The military will make up the shortfall, deploying 17,000 troops compared to the 9,500 now engaged in Afghanistan.
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