No charges yet for Trident whistle-blower

IssueAugust 2015 - September 2015
News by David Polden

On 16 June, the navy gave Trident whistleblower William McNeilly a ‘dishonourable discharge’, one month after he published an 18-page exposé of safety and security faults on nuclear missile submarine HMS Victorious, which he had recently served on. No legal action is being taken against McNeilly by the navy.

The navy rubbished McNeilly’s allegations as ‘subjective and unsubstantiated’, and held an inquiry that concluded that his claims were ‘factually incorrect or the result of misunderstanding’.

After being sacked, McNeilly published a further dossier on 17 June, in which he reported that he was asked to sign a document withdrawing his allegations, which he refused to do. McNeilly argued instead that 27 of the 30 safety flaws he’d reported were ‘witnessed or read in documented reports on the patrol’, and the three others were reports of what he’d been told by experienced submariners.

In his 17 June dossier, McNeilly re-emphasised his motives, saying: ‘I view the Royal Navy as the greatest navy in history’, and ‘My actions aren’t driven by politics they are solely driven by my concern for public safety’.

He also wrote: ‘due to the war on terrorism I now consider the Trident system to be the opposite of a deterrent. Those rusty boats are useless against all of the nations that we might find ourselves at war with’. (In his first report, McNeilly had written: ‘Nuclear weapons have served their purpose in human history.’) A significant part of the 17 June document is taken up with the threat to the UK from Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS).


We may contrast the leniency shown to McNeilly with that of Jeffrey Sterling, an African-American ex-employee of the CIA, who in May was sentenced to 3½ years for breach of the Espionage Act. Sterling had told a journalist about ‘Operation Merlin’, ‘a US covert operation [from 1997 to 2006]…to provide Iran with a flawed design for a component of a nuclear weapon ostensibly in order to delay the alleged Iranian nuclear weapon program, or to frame Iran.’ Sterling claimed that the operation was poorly executed and dangerous.

The McNeilly reports:

Some stories on Operation Merlin and the Sterling trial:

Topics: Nuclear weapons