Comments:Two shot on nuclear submarine in Southampton, England
A crew member of a nuclear sub shoots dead a shipmate and injures another. A tragic event.
However there is a serious element to this story that goes beyond the personal issues spoken of by the mainstream media.
A BBC2 Newsnight report of 15 Nov 2007 aired a MoD response to their question about why British nuclear submarines were not fitted with PAL (Permissive Action Link) safety interlocks to prevent rogue officers from launching missiles without the permission of the government. The Dr Strangelove scenario. The BBC pointed out that the US, the French and the Russians were not willing to take such a risk, and placed PAL locks on all their submarines.
However the MoD response was that British submarine did not need PAL locks because:
- "We rely instead upon the integrity of the ship's crew
- "It is confident because the ship's crew is trained to spot a rogue officer and deal with them that the Dr Strangelove scenario could never happen."
HMS Astute may not carry nuclear weapons, however it is crewed by men of the same calibre as found elsewhere in the submarine service, and on this occasion the crew certainly did not spot a rogue element within the crew, nor did they deal with him until after the shooting was over.
An abridged version of the BBC2 Newsnight report can be viewed online here 
- Security was not always so obvious
- Nuclear submarine visits to non-naval ports were a common feature of 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, and security was much less obvious. Armed sentries were never in evidence then as they are now.
- One such visit to Southampton Docks by the nuclear submarine HMS Warspite in 1982 was spectacular in a different way to HMS Astute in 2011.
- There was a small group of anti-nuclear activists in Southampton. Matthew Taylor, Linda East, Anita Gulati, and a few others whose names I no longer recollect. They planned a non-violent sit-in aboard Warspite, and recruited Brian Burnell as researcher and expert advisor.
- There was a day set aside as a public day when the general public were able to board the submarine for a short guided ‘walk through’. In at one end and out the other end. Brian trained them what to do; discard their badges and slogans; and generally disguise themselves as, and behave as normal people in a queue of people so normal they carried babies-in-arms to be irradiated aboard a nuclear-powered boat. While our appointed press officer lurked in the shadows dockside, the activists joined the queue to board the sub. Then, when several decks below, the whistle blew, they linked arms and sat down in a very narrow passageway, blocking all movement into the sub’s control room.
- The crew handled it very well I thought. Their submarine had been boarded by a bunch of sneaky pirates and the Navy had lost the use of it’s nuclear sub.
- The captain wasn’t aboard. Crew said he was visiting a lady friend in Winchester for some fun in the afternoon when the red telephone rang in Whitehall. A fast police car escort down the motorway to Southampton didn’t improve his career progression methinks.
- Eventually, highly amused and very pleasant naval Petty Officers persuaded the sit-downers to shuffle sideways into a crew mess, supplied them with tea, soft drinks and offers of food, so that trapped members of the public and their babies could be evacuated through the control room and a torpedo hatch. Then the British Transport Police arrived. Not nice people. But no guns in evidence, and no body armour. This was 1982; a more innocent time. Just overbearing, angry, and very aggressive.
- The police wanted to throw the book at us. However, we just laughed at them, and then they became even angrier. However, we knew, and they knew, and they knew we knew, that the Navy were just plain embarrassed, and wanted us to just go away. The very last thing the Navy wanted was an in-public embarrassing court appearance. So eventually, after much grinding of policemen’s teeth, the police, with ill-grace, just released Matthew and the others.
- After that, no more nuclear submarines docked in Southampton for several years, and then not ever in the Western Docks, but at Berth 38, as far from the city as it’s possible to get and still be docked in the port. And now they have armed crew members guarding the gangplank. And in 2011 we've just seen the tragic outcome of arming unstable men with assault rifles.
- As for the people. Linda East, daughter of the then Chief Constable of South Wales, she finished university and became a nurse. Anita Gulati, daughter of an eminent psychiatrist, she became a clinical psychologist. Matthew Taylor, the son of Prof Laurie Taylor, the broadcaster, became Assistant General Secretary of the Labour Party, later Director of the IPPR, a policy think tank, then he was appointed by Tony Blair to head the No.10 Downing Street Policy Unit, and later Tony appointed him Chief Advisor on Strategy to the Prime Minister in Downing St. He left Downing St before Blair left, and is now Director of the Royal Society of Arts. The others I’ve lost trace of, or can’t recollect their names. Really. Anyway my lips are sealed. But they know who they are. Nice people.
- Brian Burnell.
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|Comments from feedback form - "Eyewitnesses at the scene told..."||0||23:52, 8 April 2011|
Eyewitnesses at the scene told BBC News: "I saw at least six people carry a stretcher off the gangway into a waiting ambulance." The word eyewitnesses is wrong and should be replaced with "an eyewitness". "One eyewitness at the scene told BBC News..." (also elaborate on the state of the family on the injured and dead)