The Chief Constable George Hamilton has said he is willing to discuss requests for the establishment of a British Army bomb squad base in Derry but indicated it’s unlikely to happen in the short term.
The top police officer has also revealed that military ammunition technical officers (ATO) have already been ‘forward-based’ in the North West during major events or when “intelligence indicates that something might happen”.
While acknowledging Derry has been a hotspot for violent dissident republican activity, Chief Constable Hamilton, effectively ruled out a permanent ATO satellite station in the city.
A prospective bomb squad base was raised by East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell, during the Chief Constable’s recent appearance at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) at Westminster.
Mr. Campbell had already written to Chief Constable Hamilton on a “number of occasions about the increase of terrorist activity in the North West on both serving and former personnel who are under threat”.
Raising the matter again at the NIAC, Mr. Campbell queried the location of ATO bases.
“They are, by and large, located on the eastern outskirts of Belfast. Unfortunately, as the reality has been in past 15 months to two years, they are more often tasked to come to the North West than much closer to where they are normally based.
“Depending on traffic congestion, it can take an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes for them to arrive at an event.
“They are now doing that, according to answers to my questions for the past 15 months, virtually once a day throughout the year.
“That is not always to the North West, but the North West is high on the agenda of dissident republican terrorists.”
Asked if he had discussed the matter with his military counterparts, the police chief said he hadn’t formally done so.
“We have not been engaged in any discussions with Ministry of Defence (MoD) colleagues around a permanent satellite station in the north-west for the ATO, but we have enough agility in certain circumstances to forward‑base the ATO, at particular times around big events or where intelligence indicates that something might happen. They do not always come the full distance. On the more spontaneous, unknown, unpredicted events, you are right: they have an hour and a half journey.”
He accepted there was an issue in the North West.
“The problem is that, given the violent dissident republican activity, there is no doubt a high demand created around that in the North West,” he said.
Chief Constable Hamilton suggested that he “could give an undertaking to look at this and discuss with military colleagues” who he praised for their outstanding “agility, flexibility, tone and style”.
“There are things, such as this, that we may need to discuss to make sure there is the required flexibility and agility within the system, but I need to stop short of promising you an ATO in Londonderry.
“I am happy to have a look at the deployments,” said the police boss.