Those who thought living next to the Olympics stadium was going to be fun were in for a rude shock on Sunday after it emerged that the Ministry of Defence was considering installing surface-to-air missiles on top of a block of residential flats near the Games arena in Tower Hamlets, east London, as part of what is claimed to be the biggest peace-time security operation in the capital to deal with any possible terrorist threat.
Residents said they were shocked to be handed leaflets warning them that a “Higher Velocity Missile system” could be placed on a water tower in their housing estate. Official assurances that the missiles would be used only as a “last resort'' did little to diminish their concern.
“At first I thought it was a hoax. I can't see what purpose high-velocity missiles could serve over a crowded area like Tower Hamlets. They say they'll only use them as a last resort, but... you'd shower debris across the east end of London by firing these missiles,” said one resident Brian Whelan.
Rushana Ali, MP for the area, said the decision appeared to have been taken without proper consultation. “I will be asking the government to explain why. The MoD does need to look at this again,” she said.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that “site evaluations'' had taken place but said no decision had been taken on deploying the missiles.
“As announced before Christmas, ground based air defence systems could be deployed as part of a multi-layered air security plan for the Olympics, including fast jets and helicopters, which will protect the skies over London during the Games. Based on military advice we have identified a number of sites and… are talking to local authorities and relevant landowners to help minimise the impact of any temporary deployments,'' said a spokesman.
The leaflet sought to assure the residents that the missiles would not pose a security hazard and would “only be authorised for active use following specific orders from the highest levels of government in response to a confirmed and extreme security threat”.
It said, on the contrary, having “a 24/7 Armed Forces and police presence will improve your local security and will not make you a target for terrorists''.
But residents are not amused.