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Missiles on my roof? Londoners push back on Olympics security

The defense ministry has begun putting anti-aircraft missiles on rooftops in a few parts of London ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games.

By Ian EvansCorrespondent / May 3, 2012

A Typhoon jet stands outside its hanger at RAF Northolt in west London on Wednesday, May 2. Four of the fighters arrived at the base to take part in defence exercises in advance of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Paul Hackett/Reuters

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London

With just 85 days to go until the London Olympics, Britain’s military and security apparatus has begun testing its readiness to deal with potential terrorist attacks.

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The nine-day Exercise Olympic Guardian security test involves coordinated air, land, and sea operations and helicopters, warships, troops, and four Typhoon fighter aircraft based at RAF Northolt in west London. The show of force is designed to test the responsiveness of antiterror plans developed by the Metropolitan Police, which will have 12,500 officers on the ground for the Games, backed up by 13,500 military personnel.

But while politicians, the military, and police were keen to display their hardware to the media at the start of the exercise yesterday, the plan to place ground-to-air missiles on the capital’s rooftops has angered some residents who feel that security measures have gone too far, unnecessarily encroaching on their lives and even potentially putting them at risk. 

So far, there have been no Olympics-specific terror threats, according to the Ministry of Defense.

The ministry has identified six potential sites for air defense batteries, mostly in north and east London. The deployment will cover both the Olympic Games between July 27 and Aug. 12 and the Paralympic Games between Aug. 29 and Sept. 9.

The defense ministry distributed leaflets detailing its missile deployment plans in London neighborhoods that might be affected, such as east London's Bow Quarter – the ministry is considering placing some on the roof of its Lexington Building.

Local resident and freelance journalist Brian Whelan has contacted lawyers to see if he can challenge the missiles' placement.

Last night on Twitter he claimed he was now being evicted from his studio flat, which he shares with his girlfriend. Mr. Whelan wrote that his landlord was "unhappy with us" after widespread coverage of his challenge to the defense ministry. His landlord denies the eviction has anything to do with the missile issue.

“Very sad to learn my tenancy is to be terminated and I will be forced to leave my apartment days ahead of the opening ceremony," read his post on Twitter.

Whelan was unavailable for comment, but the chairwoman of a local residents’ association near Fred Wigg Tower in north London's Waltham Forest, another spot where missiles could be deployed would speak, said, “We have not been consulted over this, there has been no information from the council or Ministry of Defense – all we know is what we’ve heard in the media."

“Personally, I am a pacifist and I’m against having missiles on the roof of the tower because that could make us a target. It’s just a few minutes walk from my house so if that gets hit we all get hit," said the woman, Flash Bristow. "Can’t they do something else like have ... planes in the sky to monitor threats rather than put us at risk?”

A ministry spokeswoman said they had consulted with local landlords and already gained their permission at the six sites. Any complaints from tenants should be directed to their landlord, she said.

“The safety of the games is paramount and for the last four months, working alongside the police, the MOD has conducted a broad range of community engagement in those areas where ground-based air defence may be sited. This work has included extensive talks with local authorities and landowners alongside briefing local MPs, talking with community representatives and, most recently, delivering leaflets to the homes of residents in those areas in question," she said.

Security measures will only ramp up. During the Games, there will be a heavy police and military presence throughout the city. Attendees will be subject to bag searches, screening machines, surveillance cameras, and metal detectors. The management for London's subway system has planned for a possible attack on the network, carrying out a two-day terror drill at Aldwych station in February that mirrored the July 2005 bombings.

During the Olympics, there will also be traffic restrictions on some roads and dedicated "Games Lanes" to allow easy access for competitors and officials.

Jim Rollinson, vice chairman of the Newham Chamber of Commerce, said that resentment could increase as the event approaches and security measures begin affecting a broader swathe of residents.

“Once it starts, and there’s a security stranglehold around the site, people might get annoyed because they won’t be able to move around so easily. There will be limited access and parking as the police and security forces move in and people might only be allowed on their roads at night."

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