Missile defense, London style

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond stands in front of a Rapier System ground-to-air missile launcher during a visit to RAF Waddington near Lincoln, England, to observe a London 2012 Olympic Games air security training exercise, codenamed Exercise Taurus Mountain 2 (AFP Photo / Andrew Yates)
Londoners are reeling from reports that missiles, for the first time since World War II, will be deployed on the roofs of the city's buildings.

­The move, they are told, is necessary to provide security during the upcoming Summer Olympics.

The Ministry of Defence has proposed the installation of surface-to-air missiles on a number civilian sites, including a water tower in Bow Quarter, a gated community overlooking the Games park.

The ministry said in a leaflet sent to occupants of the East London flats on Saturday it had chosen the site as one of several proposed plots for its high velocity missile system (HVM) because it offered “an excellent view of the surrounding area and the entire sky above the Olympic Park.”

The move has been deemed necessary to protect the hundreds of thousands expected to visit the capital during the Games.

But an increasing number of Londoners are voicing concern over what they perceive as an overly extreme measure.

SH: Protest and eviction

In a new twist, the Bow resident who revealed the government’s plan to locate the HVM system on his roof claims he is being evicted after blowing the whistle. Brian Whelan, 28, announced on Twitter he will be kicked out only days before the Olympics and suggested the move was linked to his exposing the missile plan.

"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.”

Asked whether he was being evicted for talking about the missile plan, the freelance journalist said, “I can only speculate that may be the landlord’s motivation.”  However, his landlord insisted the matter was a “domestic” one that had nothing to do with the missile story.

The move made headlines when Whelan went public with the plan, giving numerous media interviews on the subject.

Whelan told Reuters, “there was no consultation, no one knocked on the door … You just wake up one morning, there’s a leaflet telling you they are going to put missiles on the roof. I can’t imagine the circumstances that would require you to fire missiles over a highly populated area.”

He claimed he had been told by the letting agent that the landlord was “unhappy with us.”

“I do not regret whistle-blowing on the Olympics missiles plan,” he added.

“I think it absolutely stinks, the timing of this. I think it’s very convenient for the Ministry of Defence, who have failed to answer any questions, (that) I’m going to be moved.”

In an interview, he said claims from his landlord that he and his girlfriend had refused to sign a new lease were “not true at all”.

But despite his imminent eviction, Whelan insists this is not the end of the fight. He says residents in Bow and other proposed Olympics missile sites including Blackheath would be meeting on Friday to voice concerns about the plans. He is gaining online backing with a Facebook page entitled “Support Brian Whelan From Eviction”.

Another resident of the Bow Quarter apartments, Claude Grongnet, 78, added fuel to the missile debate, telling Reuters: “I am very much against it. It is sending the wrong signal.” The retired translator suggested the emplacement would make the complex a target and pose an unnecessary risk to civilian lives. “I don’t think it’s protecting us, when there are 700 flats.”

“How did something that was supposed to be a joyful celebration end up becoming a joyless and fearful cross between a North Korean Party Congress and a minor war?” blogged science writer Michael Hanlon in the Daily Mail online edition.

If given final approval, the plan for SAM batteries would be the first time anti-aircraft weapons have been deployed in London since the end of World War II.

But the move, included in the Games’ $1.6 billion security budget, follows the precedent set by previous Olympics such as the Beijing Games in 2008, where a battery of surface-to-air missiles were deployed a kilometer south of its showpiece venues.

Greece placed dozens of US-made Patriot missiles around Athens some weeks before the 2004 Olympics, the first Summer Games after the September 2001 attacks on the United States.