Leaders: Olympic trepidation – and gross failings
There is just a week to go before the Olympics, the greatest sporting competition and show on Earth, begin.
Competitors, going through their last-minute training and coaching, may now be beginning to feel the first thrills of anticipation and perhaps the first touch of nerves. But any edginess on their part will be as nothing compared to the worries that must now be crowding in on Home Secretary Theresa May and other government ministers.
Mrs May already has the headache of a strike by Home Office staff, including immigration officers, on the day before the Games begin. A much greater concern, however, is whether the drafting in of military personnel and extra police officers will be enough to fill the security gaps caused by the woeful failure of G4S, the private security contractor, to recruit and train enough guards to protect hundreds of dignitaries, tens of thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Any security breach (and already the intelligence services have disrupted the planning of what looks like one attempt to cause mayhem), and the blame will fall squarely on Mrs May’s shoulders. Knowing this, opposition politicians are homing in on what appear to be inconsistencies in her account of what and when she knew about G4S’s failings.
This is more political man- oeuvring than attempts to help ensure the safety of all. Mrs May has now admitted that the Home Office was told on 27 June that G4S was having problems, but that these were fixable. This, say opposition MPs, demonstrates that she was being selective when she told parliament that it was not until 11 July that G4S finally admitted it could not solve the problems.
The point being made by Labour MPs is a narrow one, but it may be enough to put Mrs May in considerable difficulty if there is a significant security breach.
The position of G4S is rather more serious. This is the world’s largest security company, with a lot of experience in handling major events which necessitate the hiring and training of temporary guards for brief periods. The Olympics are different only in scale; the management skills needed to deal with the problems that will invariably occur in such a process should be the same.
Enough is now known about the recruitment process – in which it seems that many guards were recruited and trained but were then left in limbo with no indication as to whether they would be required, still less what they would be doing – to suggest that G4S’s management was shoddy.
That Strathclyde Chief Constable Stephen House feels compelled to assume responsibility for Olympic security in Glasgow just spells put a complete lack of confidence in G4S. It can no longer be relied upon. For a security company, that is a very severe problem. Chief executive Nick Buckles should consider his position.
A lesson America will never learn
Aurora, Colorado, now joins the list of places – Virginia Tech, Columbine – where a normal day erupted in terror and horror. A man entered a cinema and started shooting, apparently at random. Moments later 12 people were dead, about 40 were injured, some horribly, and still more will be permanently scarred by a dreadful memory.
Initial indications are that this was a premeditated killing by a man who had dressed for it, equipping himself with a rifle, a handgun, and a knife. Subsequent questioning of the perpetrator may reveal why he did it, though disclosure of a warped need for revenge or personal recognition from previous such abhorrences do nothing to dispel their sheer senselessness.
Inevitably, America will now undergo another bout of debate about gun control laws, particularly as this is a presidential election year. Almost as inevitably, nothing much of significance will be done to reduce the proliferation of deadly weapons carried legally.
After the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, when a mentally disturbed student, Seung-Hiu Cho, killed 32 people, gun laws were merely tightened to strengthen existing bans on ownership of guns by people with criminal records and those who had been judged to be mentally unsound.
Bizarrely, education authorities including those at Virginia Tech, who had previously introduced campus bans on weapons, found themselves criticised by gun lobbyists arguing that students should be permitted to carry weapons so they could shoot any gunmen. America, sadly, will remain deaf to the lesson learned in Britain – minimising the number of weapons in society is a sure way to minimise such horrors.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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