Royal Navy able seaman William McNeilly has blown the whistle on perceived security issues within the Trident programme.
McNeilly released an 18-page document online which detailed Trident programme security lapses, including a shortage of personnel on board nuclear submarines.
After trying to raise concerns via his chain of command several times, McNeilly released a document he called “The Secret Nuclear Threat” before going absent without leave. Then, claiming he didn’t have the resources to continue on the run abroad undetected, he gave himself in at Edinburgh airport.
Despite being careful to only mention his whistleblowing sources by rank rather than name, omitting information which he deemed a risk to security and only including the essential details in his report, McNeilly is facing a likely prison sentence. He will be subject to criminal prosecution under the Official Secrets Act and military disciplinary action by the Royal Navy police.
Members of the armed forces are bound by the Official Secrets Act. Working for the Royal Navy, William McNeilly doesn’t have the usual whistleblower protection that ordinary workers have.
Outside of the military, workers are given protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which makes it unlawful for employers to treat workers badly or to dismiss them for disclosing information about unlawful activity.
In blowing the whistle on Trident, McNeilly inspired another Royal Navy whistleblower to come forward. Ex-communications and information technology specialist, Euan Bryson, who worked on the same Faslane Naval Base in Scotland, said that the security lapses from “The Secret Nuclear Threat” rang true from his experience.
Bryson, who served on light aircraft carriers, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious, agreed there were manning issues across the board at Faslane. He added that junior employees often had to do jobs that they didn’t have the relevant security training or clearance for because of the shortage of personnel.
Historically, there has been little debate on whether those bound by the Official Secrets Act should have whistleblowing protection. Now, at the very least, the debate has commenced.
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