Trident Nuclear Weapons Whistleblower
Read McNeilly’s revelations here
Who is William McNeilly?
Able Seaman William McNeilly is a 25 year old Royal Navy nuclear weapons engineer who was so horrified by the safety and security failures on Britain’s Trident nuclear submarines and the grave danger nuclear weapons pose to the public that, on 5 May 2015, he sent a long report of his observations to the media and other whistle-blowers. McNeilly, from Newtonabbey near Belfast, had been stationed at Faslane for around a year and had completed a 3 month patrol on a Trident nuclear submarine.
Trying to get the story out
There was a gap of nearly two weeks between McNeilly circulating his revelations and the first media coverage. On 11 May, in a version of the report apparently self-published, he wrote:
I’ve had zero acknowledgement from anyone. The penalty for releasing this will be life prison if I’m lucky… The worst fear for me isn’t prison or being assassinated, it’s the fear of sacrificing everything I have just to warn the public and yet never be heard. My leave expires today, I will be haunted [sic] down for not turning up. When I’m found I will confess and will no longer be able to keep trying to warn the public. Please release this information in whichever way you can. This is bigger than me, it’s bigger than all of us. We are so close to a nuclear disaster it is shocking.
Echoes of Chelsea Manning.
Versions of McNeilly’s report had been posted to Scribd (now deleted) and to YouPublisher; these were picked up and reposted on Indymedia UK and by Veterans for Peace UK on the morning of 17 May. In terms of mainstream media coverage, after what must have been a nail-biting couple of weeks when McNeilly was clearly wondering whether his revelations would ever see the light of day, the report and a related article were finally published by Rob Edwards in the paper and online versions of the Scottish Sunday Herald (reposted with better links on Edwards’ own website). These appeared online mid-morning on 17 May, although a Herald editorial piece had been published earlier. On the evening of 17 May, the report was also published by WikiLeaks.
What did the leaks reveal?
A compilation of McNeilly’s online statements can be downloaded as a pdf file here; alternatively, read Rob Edwards’ article for an overview. There is plenty more analysis around, for example on Common Space and Nuclear Information Service.
Rob Edwards has also published a follow-up to his original article, examining parts of the top secret safety manual leaked by McNeilly. The manual refers to a potentially lethal design flaw in Trident missiles previously unacknowledged by the MoD, that could lead to plutonium and other toxic materials being released and spread “over a wide area”.
The overall picture painted by McNeilly is of ageing, poorly functioning and often broken equipment on the submarines carrying Britain’s nuclear weapons, lax to non-existent security, cover-ups, personnel with a cavalier disregard for safety, alarms ignored or disabled, water spraying over electrics, toxic cleaning materials, sewage leaks and some very serious accidents just waiting to happen: from fires, to submarine and all crew lost, to terrorist attack, to nuclear disaster – McNeilly outlines the circumstances that could lead to any of these eventualities.
An ex-Navy sailor speaks out in support of McNeilly
By Monday 18 May, the Guardian had found a Navy veteran, Euan Bryson, who had also served at Faslane and was speaking out to lend credence to many of McNeilly’s claims. Bryson published this statement on his own blog on 19 May and was interviewed for RT by anti-war veteran Joe Glenton who published this article on 20 May.
McNeilly detained on his return to Scotland
McNeilly, who had gone into hiding and was AWOL from the Navy while he attempted to get his information into the public domain, returned as promised to Scotland on the evening of Monday 18 May to give himself up. He was arrested at Edinburgh airport and passed into military custody.
By Tuesday, it was being reported, by the Guardian for instance, that the Ministry of Defence was not, as anticipated, planning to charge McNeilly under the Official Secrets Act, presumably realising that this would be likely to add fuel to the already ferocious blaze of publicity around the specific revelations and Trident safety and security in general. It is not clear what other disciplinary action may be taken against him but as an absolute minimum he will be facing action for his unauthorised absence. More severe charges seem likely. The Guardian reported on Thursday 21 May that McNeilly had been moved to a military establishment in England, is not currently under arrest and his family have been able to join him. The following day, the Independent ran an article saying that McNeilly is now “confined to quarters” at HMS Nelson naval base in Portsmouth. Other news is very thin on the ground at present and updates will be posted as the situation becomes clearer.
Donate to McNeilly’s defence fund
The Courage Foundation has set up a Defence Fund for William McNeilly and you can donate here.
The flyer below can be downloaded for use at solidarity events. Download here as a photocopiable pdf file (print as double-sided A4 and cut into A5 flyers).
There is currently an online petition started by Scottish CND calling for McNeilly to be pardoned: Change Petition.
Progress in Parliament?
In First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 21 May, the issue of Trident safety and security was raised, with FM Nicola Sturgeon stating that the only certain way to remove the risk of an incident with Trident nuclear weapons is to remove them.
In Westminster, the SNP managed to secure an adjournment debate in the Commons entitled Safety at HM Naval Base Clyde for Thursday 28 May, during the first week of the new Parliament.
Watch this space
How this story will play out remains to be seen, but military whistleblowers like William McNeilly (and like Chelsea Manning) need to know that they have our support. That support needs to be robust and ongoing, because every effort will be made by the state to exploit such incidents with a view to deterring all future would-be whistleblowers.
The WISE Up Action website was set up in solidarity with imprisoned military whistleblower Chelsea Manning and persecuted editor in chief of WikiLeaks Julian Assange, and the WISE Up network and friends have previously supported others in peril as a result of speaking out, for example the British Navy medic Mike Lyons who was jailed for 7 months in 2011 after reading the Afghan war logs and attempting to register as a conscientious objector.
Please support William McNeilly in any way you can.
[WISE stands for Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English.]
A longer version of this article can be seen here.