‘What shall we do with the drunken sailors?’ The big ques­tion fac­ing He­lens­burgh

TEN­SIONS ARE RIS­ING BE­TWEEN THE TOWNSFOLK OF HE­LENS­BURGH AND THE ROYAL NAVY MARINES STA­TIONED THERE TO GUARD TRIDENT. PETER SWINDON VIS­ITED THE TOWN TO IN­VES­TI­GATE THE TRUTH ABOUT CLAIMS OF AL­CO­HOL-FU­ELLED VI­O­LENCE

Sunday Herald - - SOCIETY -

IT is the pic­turesque com­muter town which sits on the banks of the Clyde six miles along the shore­line from a naval base which houses the UK’s Trident nu­clear de­ter­rent and more than 500 elite Royal Marines Com­man­dos tasked with pro­tect­ing the na­tion’s atomic ar­se­nal.

He­lens­burgh res­i­dents have lived with a mil­i­tary pres­ence at Faslane since the Sec­ond World War but the re­la­tion­ship with per­son­nel who call Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde their home has not al­ways been plain sail­ing – and re­cent in­ci­dents have led to ris­ing ten­sions.

CCTV footage emerged last week of a brawl be­tween lo­cals and navy per­son­nel in the Lo­gie Baird – a pub named af­ter the He­lens­burgh-born engi­neer who in­vented tele­vi­sion. It led to claims by the owner Cara Nikolic that this is “the lat­est in a long line of in­ci­dents”.

Her hus­band was re­cently cleared of as­sault­ing two navy per­son­nel in a sep­a­rate clash af­ter it was shown he was act­ing in self-de­fence – but the le­gal bill ran into the thou­sands and the cou­ple called for crunch talks with top brass at the base af­ter the lat­est in­ci­dent in the Lo­gie Baird.

Cara Nikolic is from a mil­i­tary fam­ily – her fa­ther was an English sub­mariner – and she em­ploys peo­ple who are mar­ried to navy per­son­nel so she is well aware of the long­stand­ing links be­tween He­lens­burgh and the base. How­ever, she’s had enough of drunken sailors caus­ing trou­ble.

She said: “They go out in big groups and when they’re drunk they can turn on you. I’m not rat­tling cages for the sake of it. We need help and it has to come from within the base. All I’m say­ing is stop mis­be­hav­ing.”

Con­cerns raised by the own­ers of the Lo­gie Baird led to lo­cal SNP MP Bren­dan O’Hara send­ing a let­ter to base com­man­der Com­modore Mark Gayfer call­ing for a crack­down on anti-so­cial be­hav­iour in He­lens­burgh.

O’Hara said: “It is es­sen­tial that pub­li­cans, restau­rant own­ers and the res­i­dents of the town are re­as­sured that such be­hav­iour will not be tol­er­ated by the MoD or the civil­ian au­thor­i­ties.”

HMNB Clyde sent Richard Phillips to meet li­censees in He­lens­burgh last week. Phillips is a se­nior navy fig­ure who claimed to be re­spon­si­ble for a 64 per cent drop in in­ci­dents in­volv­ing mil­i­tary per­son­nel at licensed premises in Portsmouth, which is home to another ma­jor naval base.

It is un­der­stood some pub­li­cans sought to play down re­cent in­ci­dents at the meet­ing and turned down Phillips’s of­fer to ban per­son­nel from drink­ing in their bars, fear­ing a fall in prof­its.

The town is con­flicted. They need the mil­i­tary per­son­nel to drive the lo­cal econ­omy but they are un­happy with the ugly fall­out, par­tic­u­larly on Fri­day and Satur­day nights.

Man­ager of The Ash­ton bar, Jane McMurdo, said: “If there was a blan­ket ban the pub­li­cans would be up in arms be­cause they wouldn’t get as much money com­ing in. If the base shut down, He­lens­burgh would shut down.”

The bar­man at The Com­modore on the banks of the Clyde, who gave his name as Mark, said: “More of­ten than not the sailors fight among them­selves. There’s al­ways an al­pha male in the group and the men try to outdo each other.”

When navy per­son­nel drink to ex­cess in He­lens­burgh, taxi driv­ers can also bear the brunt. One cab­bie, who asked not to be named, said: “I’ve had trou­ble with drunk­en­ness, threats of vi­o­lence and ver­bal abuse. Marines are the worst. They think they can do what they like and have no re­spect. There’s very much a ‘ them and us’ at­ti­tude.”

Another taxi driver, who also wants to re­main anony­mous, added: “They’re of­ten drunk and you’ll get lip about the fares. It costs £15 to get to the base af­ter 10 o’clock so they’ll call you a thief or what­ever – but there’s no deny­ing they’re good for busi­ness. If they stopped com­ing into town I’d be out of a job.”

The naval base at Faslane is a town in its own right. It em­ploys al­most 7,000 peo­ple, with around 2,000 of them liv­ing on site in high-rise ac­com­mo­da­tion blocks. That num­ber will in­crease to 8,200 by 2022 af­ter the UK Gov­ern­ment pledged to make Faslane home to all Royal Navy sub­marines.

Nor­man Muir, chair­man of He­lens­burgh Com­mu­nity Coun­cil, is keen to pro­mote in­te­gra­tion and en­sures the 20-strong com­mu­nity coun­cil has four places re­served for peo­ple con­nected with the base. “We ac­tively en­gage with the naval com­mu­nity,” Muir said. “We want to make peo­ple feel at home here. Af­ter all, they are Bri­tish, the same as us. The mem­bers from the naval com­mu­nity want ex­actly the same as us – good schools, shops, trans­port, park­ing. I’d say they are pretty well-in­te­grated and they bring great ben­e­fit to the lo­cal econ­omy.”

Anne Mitchell, who has run gift store Anne of Loudounville for 30 years, said: “The base is a plank of the

If there was a blan­ket ban the pub­li­cans would be up in arms be­cause they wouldn’t get as much money com­ing in. If the base shut down, He­lens­burgh would shut down

busi­ness. There are a lot of fine peo­ple in the navy and I’ve noth­ing but good things to say about them.”

Muir, a for­mer army of­fi­cer who has lived in He­lens­burgh for 20 years, in­sisted talk of trou­ble in its pubs has been “blown out of pro­por­tion”.

“The ones that do cause trou­ble are dealt with se­verely. Mil­i­tary jus­tice can ac­tu­ally be more se­vere be­cause the mil­i­tary guards its public rep­u­ta­tion jeal­ously. You may not hear about it but trou­ble­mak­ers are dealt with.”

Johnny Ra­pallini’s Clyde Bar is painted with a huge Saltire which can be seen from the shore­line – and prob­a­bly from the sub­marines car­ry­ing Trident nu­clear weapons which are reg­u­larly towed along the Clyde to Faslane. The owner de­scribes his pub as a “Yes bar” and reg­u­larly hosts pro-in­de­pen­dence groups and meet­ings of the Cam­paign for Nu­clear Dis­ar­ma­ment. He is op­posed to Trident but even he doesn’t want to see the back of the base. Ra­pallini said: “We don’t have a bad re­la­tion­ship with the base. We get some busi­ness from it. I hope the base is al­ways there, but as a Scot­tish mil­i­tary base with­out nu­clear weapons.”

The Sunday Her­ald asked to speak to Com­modore Gayfer but he was un­avail­able. A Royal Navy spokesman con­firmed rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the base at­tended the Pub­watch meet­ing in He­lens­burgh on August 1 which he said was “cen­tred around how to re­duce in­stances of un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour in lo­cal licensed es­tab­lish­ments”.

He said: “Such be­hav­iour is far from be­ing ex­clu­sive to ser­vice per­son­nel, in­deed of ap­prox­i­mately 50 peo­ple cur­rently banned from es­tab­lish­ments only five are from the Armed Forces. The vast ma­jor­ity of pub­li­cans wel­come mem­bers of the Armed Forces in their es­tab­lish­ments.

“The Royal Navy Po­lice were very happy to of­fer their help and in­sight in iden­ti­fy­ing ways to re­duce in­stances of anti-so­cial be­hav­iour. The Royal Navy takes al­le­ga­tions of un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour ex­tremely se­ri­ously and will con­tinue to work with the lo­cal com­mu­nity and part­ners to of­fer re­as­sur- ance and to help He­lens­burgh re­main a safe and en­joy­able area to visit.”

The Sunday Her­ald asked to speak to lo­cal po­lice but a spokes­woman for Po­lice Scot­land said she “can­not fa­cil­i­tate any in­ter­view re­quest at this time”. In a pre­pared state­ment, the area com­man­der, Chief In­spec­tor Paul Robert­son, said: “Po­lice Scot­land serves a di­verse range of peo­ple across He­lens­burgh and Bal­loch, in­clud­ing mem­bers of our mil­i­tary per­son­nel, who do so­cialise lo­cally and play an in­te­gral part in the com­mu­nity. We will con­tinue to work with our part­ners, in­clud­ing lo­cal li­censees, to en­sure the ar­eas of He­lens­burgh and Bal­loch re­main safe and en­joy­able places to visit and so­cialise.

“As with any other com­mu­nity, we do of course ex­pe­ri­ence iso­lated in­ci­dents of anti-so­cial be­hav­iour, which are dealt with swiftly and ro­bustly by our of­fi­cers.”

Ten­sion is ris­ing be­tween res­i­dents and navy per­son­nel in He­lens­burgh, in­clud­ing in the Lo­gie Baird pub where CCTV footage, above right, emerged last week of a brawl be­tween lo­cals and sailors from nearby Faslane

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