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Thatcher ‘horrified’ by sub-jack

Secret cabinet office papers reveal impact of nuke sub protest

A protest action in 1988 in which Phill Jones, Chipper Mills, and Tony Vallance from Faslane Peace Camp managed to get into the control room of one of the UK’s nuclear-armed submarines left British prime minister Margaret Thatcher ‘utterly horrified’, according to secret cabinet offices papers published by the National Archives on 29 December.

The papers describe how, at 1.15am on 10 October 1988, the three successfully broke into Faslane naval base north of Glasgow, climbed into the high security area in which HMS Repulse was berthed, and evaded guards to board the Polaris submarine.

The activists raced into the control room and announced themselves to the startled crew with the words: ‘We’re hijacking this submarine. Take us to Cuba.’ A woman protester also swam across Gareloch to one of the floating docks, where she sat for an hour without being seen.

The papers also reveal that military personnel and police were disciplined in secret over the incident, which Thatcher described as ‘a most astonishing record of negligence’, in order to deny the anti-nuclear movement a publicity coup and stop terrorists learning of weaknesses in base security.

The case against the three men collapsed when they appeared at Dumbarton sheriff’s court in 1989.

Following the breach of security Thatcher approved a shoot-to-kill policy at the Faslane base. Despite this, as Trident Ploughshares has pointed out, peace activists continued to breach security and to reach vessels – without getting shot. One campaigner swam across the Gareloch and painted HMS Victorious, one of the four nuclear subs with the word ‘EVIL’.

David Polden is the PN news editor.