Police chiefs urge ministers to draw lessons from G4S Games debacle

Olympic Security Group concerned there was ‘no one who could press the panic button’

Senior police officers responsible for ensuring security at the Olympics have written to the Home Office urging ministers to learn lessons from the G4S debacle that led to the army being drafted in to help protect the Games.

The Observer understands that the Olympic Security Group (OSG), the elite body with overall responsibility for the policing of the Games, wrote to the Home Office last week outlining a series of “learning points” that needed to be addressed before the UK stages another major sporting event. The group expressed concern that there was no independent regulator of G4S, which meant its progress in meeting targets leading up to the Games had gone largely unmonitored until it was almost too late to take action. “It meant there was nobody who could press a panic button,” explained a source familiar with the group’s thinking.

The OSG also said the fact that there were no cancellation clauses in G4S’s contract also made it difficult to hold the company to account. It acknowledged that there had been warnings that G4S would not be able to deliver on its promises since the beginning of the year and noted that there had been a number of minor problems involving the company’s personnel during the Games.

Trade unions said the group’s findings showed there was a need for greater oversight of private firms that were awarded public-sector contracts. “Whenever the private sector gets it wrong in the justice sector, it is the public sector that bails it out,” said Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the probation union, Napo. “With the private sector, it’s always a race to the bottom.”

However, the OSG was more positive about the overall level of security at the Games. It notes that the torch procession and opening ceremony set an early goodwill precedent for the Olympics that continued to flow through the Games themselves. “It meant it was clear from the outset that there would be no public support for any group who tried to exploit the Games for their advantage,” the source said.

Prior to the Olympics, the police’s biggest fear had been that anti-capitalism protesters would stage a series of high-profile stunts aimed at causing public disorder. However, the report expresses satisfaction that there have been no serious breaches of security.

Ironically, it suggests that the presence of the army may have helped matters. Bringing in respected military personnel bolstered public support, the OSG believes.

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