Residents held a public meeting on Friday evening to discuss plans to station High Velocity Missiles on a housing block in Bow. Part of the government’s defence strategy for the Olympic Games announced last week, they have been met with some resistance.
Bow Quarter is one of six sites around London which the Ministry of Defence have been given access to as part of the nine day security exercise which began on Thursday. At a public demonstration of the weapons on Blackheath, another proposed missile location, Major David Joyce from 16 Artillery regiment said the plans were ‘not set in stone’.
Around 100 people gathered at St Paul’s church near Roman Road to hear speeches from Brian Whelan, the journalist and soon-to-be-former resident of Bow Quarter who first spoke out publicly against the plans. Also making addresses were Tower Hamlets Councillor Rania Khan, local resident and vice-chair of Stop the War Coalition Chris Nineham, and Joanna Fleck of law firm Tuckers who are assisting Whelan with possible legal action.
Opening proceedings, Chris Nineham commented that the lack of consultation by the MoD at Bow Quarter was “quite surreal”, and informed the audience that even Jane’s Defense Weekly had judged the type of missiles installed at the site to be “badly affected by weather”. “Surely”, added Mr Nineham, “the MoD have already got systems set in place [for the prevention of terrorism during the Olympics] what we’re seeing now is bravado.”
An exhausted-looking Whelan joked that although “this hasn’t been the hardest story I’ve ever had, it has been the biggest one that’s landed on top of me”. He and his partner’s alleged eviction from his home as a result of his opposition to the missile plans drew sympathy from the crowd, one audience member called it “intimidation.”
Whelan commented on the military personnel stationed on the roof of his building, described in an MoD leaflet distributed to residents as “fully trained, professional soldiers.” “They look younger than me, and I’m not yet 30”, said Mr Whelan. “Surely you run a test like the real thing? It’s a disgrace.”
Solicitor Joanna Fleck spoke of the possible legal avenues open to campaigners, while local councillor Rania Khan called on the MoD to “scrap their plans.”
Hackney resident Emma Sangster of anti-militarisation organisation Forces Watch spoke to EastLondonLines about why she attended the meeting: “The Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 were the most militarised Olympics to date. When a major sports event gets militarised the other cities will follow, but I just can’t see what it achieves. If weapons were deployed, there would be chaos.”
The consensus was that this is only the beginning of ongoing resistance, and Mr Nineham called on anyone who could to meet at Bow Quarter on Saturday 5 May at 10am to voice their concerns with MoD officials who would reportedly be answering questions from local residents. There are also plans to meet again at St Paul’s on Wednesday 9 May at 6.30pm for a follow-up meeting. EastLondonLines will post more on this story as it develops.
Reaction to the MoD’s proposals has not been completely negative. Hear from Blackheath residents who take the view that a security deterrent is necessary for the Olympics in the EastLondonLines Weekly: Missile Special.