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The Globe and Mail

London frets over ‘humiliating’ security shortfall

Police officers walk past the Olympic Stadium, in the Olympic Park, in Stratford, east London, July 17, 2012. The head of G4S admitted his management of the London Olympics staffing scandal had embarrassed the British government and left the world's biggest security firm's reputation in tatters as he fought to save his job on Tuesday. G4S has been at the centre of a political firestorm, and has lost about 650 million pounds ($1 billion) in market value, since it announced it could not provide the promised 10,400 Olympic security guards just two weeks before the Games.


The London Olympics open next Friday but organizers are spending this week scrambling to cope with mounting problems caused by man and nature.

On Tuesday the head of the private security firm that is supposed to provide security guards for the Games said he still has no clear idea how many guards will be in place by the opening ceremonies. "It's a moving target," Nick Buckles, chief executive of G4S Plc told a British parliamentary committee. Buckles said he believes the company will be able to supply 7,000 guards in total. That's less than the 10,400 the company was committed to providing under the terms of a 2009 contract, worth $440-million, with Games organizers. "I'm very embarrassed about the situation," he told the committee.

Part of the problem, he explained, was a decision by Games organizers last December to boost the number of fully trained guards required from G4S to include all 10,400, instead of just 2,000. That overloaded the company, which had never dealt with a contract this size. G4S is also responsible for managing more than 13,000 other security staff at the Games. Buckles said the problems surfaced on July 3 and the company realized eight days later that it could not meet its commitment.

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Buckles's comments did little to quell the hostility from Members of Parliament who blasted Buckles and G4S, which is one of the largest security firms in the world with more than 600,000 employees. Labour MP David Winnick described G4S's conduct as a "humiliating shambles," leaving Buckles to meekly reply: "I cannot disagree with you." Other MPs were just as blunt, saying they couldn't believe Buckles, and describing his responses as "making it up as you go along." Some MPs questioned why Buckles hadn't been fired and others wondered if G4S should be allowed to keep the many security contracts it has with the government, which are worth roughly $700-million in total.

Buckles accepted full responsibility for the Olympic fiasco and said G4S will pay all of the cost for the 3,500 extra soldiers who have been brought in by the government to cover the company's shortfall in guards. More soldiers are expected to arrive next week and police across the country have also been forced to fill in security gaps created by G4S's problems. Nonetheless, Buckles said the firm still expects to receive a $90-million management fee for its work at the Games. "I find that astonishing," committee chairman Keith Vaz shot back. He later summed up G4S's behaviour as "unacceptable, incompetent and amateurish."

Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, tried to quell concerns about security. "I will say it again, we are ready, we're ready on security," Coe told reporters Tuesday. "We should put this into proportion, this has not, nor will it impact the security or the safety of these Games, that of course is our number one objective."

But the lack of G4S guards is already having an impact. Only half of the required G4S staff showed up to a cycling venue Tuesday forcing local police to rush in and takeover.

Security wasn't the only issue troubling Games organizers. The constant rain in recent weeks has forced organizers to alter plans for spectators at some venues and consider rescheduling events if the wet weather continues. The Eton Dorney rowing lake and Greenwich Park, home to equestrian events, are waterlogged and could be almost impassable for people trying to watch. Games organizers may also have to alter the sailing course at Weymouth because that area is also too soggy for spectators. "This is a challenge," Coe told reporters. "I have joked in the past about putting a roof across the whole country. ... But let's be clear, this is actually proving quite a challenge to us."

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