Royal Navy submariner, William McNeilly (25), assured his brother on Facebook yesterday that he was “relatively safe now” though he couldn’t say where he was. “I will return to the UK and hand myself in soon,” he said.
“I may be alone physically, but I'm backed by a growing army. Change is coming. Don't worry about me,” he added. “This is about doing what I swore to do: protect the people and the land against threats both foreign and domestic.”
The Royal Navy has launched an investigation into McNeilly’s allegations, and says it “is working closely with civilian police to locate him”. Anti-nuclear campaigners yesterday praised his bravery, and urged the Navy not to hound him.
McNeilly, from Newtownabbey in Belfast, joined the Navy in July 2013 and served on patrol with the Trident submarine, HMS Victorious, from January to April this year. He went absent without leave last week, after writing a dramatic and damning account of the multiple problems he says he saw or heard about.
His 18-page report, The Nuclear Secrets, was revealed by our sister paper, the Sunday Herald, yesterday. The ageing and short-staffed Trident nuclear weapons system, based at Faslane and Coulport on the Clyde, was a “disaster waiting to happen”, he warned.
He claimed that tests on whether missiles could be safely launched failed, security passes and bags were unchecked, and burning toilet rolls started a fire in a missile compartment. Alarms were muted because they went off so often, missile safety procedures ignored and top secret information left unguarded, he said.
“We are so close to a nuclear disaster it is shocking, and yet everybody is accepting the risk to the public,” he warned. “It's just a matter of time before we're infiltrated by a psychopath or a terrorist.”
After the story on his allegations broke yesterday, McNeilly took to Facebook to let family and friends know how he was doing. “I’m just letting you know I’m alive and well,” he wrote.
“I’ve been working covertly to eliminate the biggest threat to the UK for about a year. My real intentions, along with more than enough information to eliminate the Trident programme, are contained in my report.”
He cautioned that the Royal Navy would now try and play down his allegations. “But anyone who reads the report will understand. My information comes from good sources. I have no reason to lie and they will understand if change isn’t made a nuclear catastrophe almost certainly will happen.”
He urged his friends not to feel bad about whatever happens to him, and insisted he was acting from the best of motives. “This is more like David vs Superman than David vs Goliath,” he added. “I might not win the fight but it’s not just about winning; it’s about turning with everything you’ve got to protect your people.”
McNeilly was described as a “brave young man” by Peter Burt from the Nuclear Information Service, a campaign group critical of nuclear policy. “He has done not only his colleagues in the submarine service but the whole nation a service by exposing the risks that submariners face because of cost-cutting, staff shortages and lax management,” Burt said.
“The Ministry of Defence’s nuclear programme operates to far lower safety standards than the civil nuclear sector because independent regulators are not allowed to scrutinise its activities, and because much is covered up under the pretence of security.”
John Ainslie, coordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament argued that McNeilly should be “commended for his action, not hounded”. He added: “We are told that nuclear weapons keep us safe. His report shows that Trident puts us all in great danger.”
The Royal Navy stressed it took security and nuclear safety extremely seriously. “We are fully investigating both the issue of the unauthorised release of this document and its contents,” said a naval spokeswoman.
“The naval service operates its submarine fleet under the most stringent safety regime and submarines do not go to sea unless they are completely safe to do so.” McNeilly’s report contained “subjective and unsubstantiated personal views with which the naval service completely disagrees”.