Dozens of elite firearms officers tasked with guarding Britain’s nuclear weapons and other key military sites cannot carry guns because they are too unfit.
A shocking official report into the Ministry of Defence Police, seen by The Mail on Sunday, reveals ‘concern’ at the growing number who are out of action and warns the situation is set to worsen.
The crisis has emerged after the introduction of more gruelling fitness tests equal to those taken by other armed officers in the UK.
The MoD Police protect the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet at Faslane, as well as other sensitive sites
Some MoD police – who protect the nuclear submarine fleet at Faslane, GCHQ’s iconic base in Gloucestershire and Devonport’s historic naval dockyards – have failed the new tests, while others have simply refused to take part.
Last night, former Army officer Leo Docherty MP, who sits on the Defence Select Committee, said: ‘I find this report very alarming.
‘There is absolutely no reason why those serving in the MoD Police should not observe the same high standards of those in the Armed Forces.
‘They have a crucial role in protecting our national infrastructure and need to be fit.’
The MoD Police protect the country’s nuclear weapons facilities, military bases and intelligence headquarters, while its armed officers have also been deployed on the streets of Britain in the aftermath of terror attacks.
But official documents reveal huge problems within the 2,500-strong force, where more than 30 officers were either sacked or allowed to quit for not patrolling top- security sites properly in a scandal revealed by the MoS last year.
The sites they’re supposed to keep safe
- Porton Down, where the nerve agent used in Salisbury spy attack was tested
- GCHQ, the doughnut-shaped headquarters of the intelligence agency
- Catterick, Britain’s biggest Army garrison
- Aldermaston, where the warheads for Britain’s nuclear weapons are made
- Faslane, the naval base on the Clyde that is home to the Trident nuclear submarine fleet
- Devonport, the Royal Navy base in Plymouth
- Fylingdales, the RAF ‘early warning’ station on the North Yorkshire Moors
The force is 200 officers short, yet faces huge budget cuts that could risk national security, while the new fitness tests have left many officers unable to perform their duties.
David Riddle, chairman of the MoD Police Committee, an independent body which oversees the force, wrote in its annual report: ‘The gap [in officers] is exacerbated by rising levels of sickness absence and officers unfit to perform the full range of duties.
‘In the short term, the problems are likely to get worse because of the number of officers who may fail the fitness standard or health check.’
Until last year, officers – ‘still heavily weighted towards over 50s’ according to the annual report – had to pass a shuttle run test set by the Institute of Naval Medicine and faced no sanction if they failed.
But now they have to complete the test to the more stringent standard expected of firearms officers in other police forces, and will face disciplinary procedures if they fail another three times.
The annual report warns that the stricter rules ‘could initially produce more officers judged non-capable of carrying out armed duties (by reason of fitness or health)’.
In the first year of the tests, the report said, ‘over 600 officers (around 25 per cent of the force) have not yet come forward to test themselves’.
Another three per cent failed the test, while five per cent could not take it for health reasons.
Figures up to March 2017 showed that nine per cent of the workforce is currently assessed as not being capable to carry a firearm, with 60 officers on long-term sick leave, 152 deemed ‘temporarily non-capable’ due to illness, injury or lack of fitness, and another 19 suffering long-term medical conditions.
‘The increase in temporary non-capability is linked to the introduction of fitness testing and is expected to worsen as the force introduces “with consequence” testing from next year,’ the report warns.
‘The number of “temporary non-capable” officers has almost doubled this year. This is an area of concern,’ it adds.
Eamon Keating, national chairman of the Defence Police Federation, said: ‘Given fitness testing was only introduced two years ago, it should not be a surprise that some officers have struggled to meet these requirements in the absence of any prior assessment.’
He added: ‘Officers should meet the physical requirements of their role, but must be appropriately supported to do so.’
The ‘health and capability’ of the officers was described as among the most significant risks facing the force, said the annual report.
But it added that the ‘key issue’ facing the MoD Police was its lack of money.
It faced a £15 million cut to its £130 million budget in the past year – ‘delivered at the expense of policing and security services’.
‘The spending cuts mean there is a large gap between resources currently available and the established level of customer requirements,’ the report stated.
‘There is a significant challenge to customers [mainly the MoD] in managing the security risk at some establishments.’
The MoD said: ‘It is a condition of police service that our personnel must be fit and healthy and nearly all those who take a regular fitness test pass them.’
Former Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois added: ‘The MoD Police play an important role in our national defence.
‘It is very important that the officers are fit and capable of carrying out a full range of duties.’