You may have seen a post on facebook last week from Eric. He was stopped by the MOD police whilst walking on the ranges, when the flags were down, well within his rights to do so. The police told him he was trespassing and that he could be arrested. They took his details and issued him a “warning off” notice. Understandably he was not pleased.
I don’t believe the MOD have prevented or caught any vandals, yet they seem determined to catch innocent members of the community as part of their efforts to “work with the community”! If the issue with the ranges closure was due to vandalism, surely this would be their priority and people walking on the ranges, being the MOD’s eyes and ears is only a good. Yet further evidence that the closure has nothing to do with vandalism and the appaling behaviour of a tax payer funded organisation with zero accountability.
Eric has written to Michael Gove about his experience and has shared this with me so that I can share with you. His letter is as follows.
Dear Mr Gove,
I am a constituent of yours and have lived in Ash Vale for the last 20 years since I left the Army. In that time, I and my family have made almost daily use of Ash Ranges for exercise and recreation, including on the so called ‘Range Floors’ which are close to my house. Many, if not most, of your other constituents who live locally will have similarly enjoyed responsible access to this unique ‘green space’ when there is no firing. As you know this privilege, extant for many decades, was arbitrarily withdrawn on the instructions of the DIO in March of this year.
The DIOs reasons for this course of action were principally made on two grounds: firstly, that infrastructure within the ‘Range Floors’ was being damaged by vandals and secondly that members of the public were more likely to suffer injury in these areas, as there are steep drops and similar EH&S risks. Neither of these reasons is supported by evidence as seen from the DIO responses to exactly these questions when raised in FOI requests.
Behind a thin veil of spurious justification and some chicanery it seems the DIO and its contractors view themselves as sole arbiters in the matter. Arguments to the contrary or attempts to suggest alternative approaches by other stakeholders that might ‘bring the public on-board’ have been resisted in favour of a blinkered approach that serves only to alienate a local Community normally strongly supportive of the MOD. Locking the gates and putting up ‘low security’ fencing will certainly not stop vandalism on the ‘Range Floors’ which continues unabated.
I will not re-visit the many community reasons you will already have heard for maintaining public access to the ‘Range Floors’. I simply wish to bring your attention to some arguments I have not seen aired, as well as some personal observations that I hope add context to the justification for access to all of Ash Ranges to be be restored when firing is not underway:
- While the active ‘Range Floors’ on the Western side of Ash Ranges are now fenced and gated, there is no similar program evident around the active ‘Range Floors’ on the Eastern side of the Ranges. Why not? Members of the public, vandals and fly tippers continue to frequent those areas unhindered. A consistent MOD policy should surely restrict access here as well.
- Over the years I have, on several occasions, confronted vandals and reported other suspicious behaviour and violations of range safety rules to the Ash Range Wardens, the military SE Operations Room, Aldershot Garrison and the MOD Police in Longmoor. On no occasion was significant interest forthcoming from any of these agencies beyond advising me not to confront anyone.
- I have also brought vandalism on the ranges to the attention of the Deputy Head of Ash Manor School as it was clear to me that school children from there were likely involved in an incident I came across. He was unaware of the ‘Ranges’ and their potential to attract the more adventurous of his charges. He confirmed from the photographic evidence I shared with him that pupils from the school were likely involved.
- Last Saturday morning I was detained by the MOD police on the ‘Range Floors‘whilst walking my dog. I had a perfectly amicable conversation with the two constables involved that mostly centred around the vexed question public servants sometimes find themselves in of having to implement policies they disagree with in order to ‘pay the mortgage’. In this context, they insisted I was committing an offence and that I was to leave the area immediately. They issued me a MOD 1601 form that in effect warns me off MOD Land for the heinous offence of ‘walking a dog in the Technical Area’ and further indicated I was liable to be arrested and summonsed should I ‘offend’ a second time in any capacity.
Bullet Points 1 to 3 above seem to indicate systemic failure on the part of the DIO to engage effectively with the local community, not to mention a distinct lack of enthusiasm on their part to do anything more than seek the laziest, least effective and, as far as the local community are concerned, most antagonistic approach to the problem of vandalism. As to their second assertion, there is no evidence that members of the public are at increased risk as a result of unsupervised access to the ‘Range Floors’. Bullet Point 4 indicates the DIO don’t care if formerly law-abiding and supportive members of the community become their implacable and determined opponents in the future.
I look forward to your comments on the above, especially in light of your statement that ’there is an urgent need to balance the needs of the MOD with the rights of people to enjoy this green space’; to which statement I would add, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.
Yours faithfully etc