Trident whistleblower William McNeilly in military custody
Royal Navy submariner who alleged UK’s nuclear deterrent was ‘disaster waiting to happen’ understood to have been apprehended at Edinburgh airport
Able Seaman William McNeilly said he had moved between countries and locations on a daily basis since his disappearance. Photograph: William Lewis/Facebook
The Royal Navy whistleblower who went on the run after alleging a catalogue of security failings at the Trident nuclear base is in custody in Scotland.
Able Seaman William McNeilly, 25, went absent without leave from the Faslane naval base after publishing a 18-page report online claiming Britain’s nuclear deterrent was a “disaster waiting to happen”. He is understood to have been apprehended at Edinburgh airport on Monday night.
A Royal Navy spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that AB McNeilly was apprehended last night and is now in the custody of the Royal Navy police at a military establishment in Scotland where he is being afforded the duty of care that we give to all of our people.
“The Royal Navy disagrees with McNeilly’s subjective and unsubstantiated personal views but we take the operation of our submarines and the safety of our personnel extremely seriously and so continue to fully investigate the circumstances of this issue.”
McNeilly’s brother, Aaron, told friends on Facebook on Tuesday morning that he was feeling “happy” and said “my brother is safe and well”. He later added that his brother was in Scotland and said he had handed himself in.
McNeilly last broke cover with a lengthy Facebook statement on Monday afternoon in which he said he was preparing to turn himself over to the authorities. He said he lacked “the resources to remain undetected” after days on the run, in which he claimed to have moved between countries and swapped locations daily while using multiple aliases to maintain his cover.
Faslane naval base on the river Clyde. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian
He wrote: “After working my ass off, putting my life on the line and sacrificing pretty much all I had to warn you and government. I’ll be awarded with free meals and free accommodation, in prison … There is a small chance of a pardon or a shortened sentence.
“Unlike some whistleblowers out there who release information without consideration, put lives at risk and reduce security: I only included essential information, I tried the chain of command route, sources were referred to by rank instead of name, there was information I never released that would’ve helped the report but it would’ve caused a security risk … My motives are clearly to protect the people and land. Whatever happens, don’t worry about me; I’ll be alright.”
McNeilly now faces the prospect of military disciplinary action by the Royal Navy police and a criminal prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, which can carry a lengthy prison sentence.
An online petition calling on the MoD and Crown Prosecution Service to grant McNeilly clemency has so far attracted more than 2,700 signatories.
The police and the navy launched a hunt for McNeilly, 25, when he left Faslane last week after publishing his report, The Nuclear Secrets, online.
William McNeilly posted his ID to prove he worked at Faslane. Photograph: William McNeilly/Scribd.com
In the dossier, McNeilly claimed it was more difficult to get into some nightclubs than to gain access to Britain’s nuclear programme facility. Referring to a chronic shortage of personnel, he suggested it was “a matter of time before we’re infiltrated by a psychopath or a terrorist”.
On Monday the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, was urged to investigate McNeilly’s claims by Brendan O’Hara, the SNP MP for Argyll and Bute, which includes Faslane. He said the security lapses described appeared to be “extremely worrying” and merited further investigation.
O’Hara said: “As an SNP MP implacably opposed to Trident but also as the local MP, I am extremely worried by these allegations, even if only half of what the report claims is true. The issue of safety is absolutely paramount, especially when the base is so close to a major centre of population.”
The MP spoke as a second Royal Navy whistleblower came forward to warn of security lapses in the service, saying he found the allegations made by McNeilly to be persuasive.
On Monday, a former Royal Navy communications and information technology specialist said McNeilly’s actions inspired him to speak out for the first time about the security lapses he saw while serving.
Euan Bryson, 25, told the Guardian that McNeilly’s concerns about security breaches “rang true from my experience”. He described how a shipmate routinely used a blue bank card to get past security into his base after losing his Royal Navy identity card on a night out.
Bryson, who served on HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious and was based at Faslane before leaving the service in 2013, said there were “manning issues” across the board, meaning that relatively junior employees were often tasked to do jobs they did not have the security training or clearance to carry out.