By Jonathan Turner and Bob Corcoran, ©1999
DATE: 27 June 1999
SUMMARY: The preliminary report on a deadly encounter in the Pitney Down nuclear reactor, Bristol, UK.
CASE STATUS: Open
SECRET SECRET SECRET SECRET SECRET SECRET
JUNE 27, 1999
To: Commander Land Forces
From: Major G. Rowland, 22 SAS
RE: Operation PEA GREEN
CC: PM’s office, Home Office, MI5, NCIS, G-19.
We have now completed the debriefing of survivors from B Sqd., 22 SAS who took part in the intervention at Pitney Down reactor outside Bristol four days ago.
I feel that it is necessary to go over some old ground in order to give the correct perspective of events during the operation, so I hope you will forgive me if any of this report is already familiar to you.
At 20.46 hours on June 23 a fence alarm was tripped at the Pitney Down nuclear reactor 12 miles south of Bristol. As well as alerting security staff at the reactor, it also sounded at the headquarters of British Nuclear Fuels, the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the local police, the Home Office and MI5 at Millbank.
Like many reactors in Britain, there have been intermittent problems with anti-nuclear protesters at the site. An ATEA Constabulary team made up of Authorized Firearm Officers (AFOs) and a dog team were tasked to investigate. Control staff at Pitney Down confirmed the situation was stable at 20.52 hours during a telephone call to London.
However, a panic alarm was sounded at 20.54 and repeated attempts to contact staff at Pitney Down failed. Armed local police, a helicopter unit from Bristol, fire fighters and paramedics were all tasked to the scene. Both Red and Blue Pagoda teams at Hereford were also alerted.
The first police officers arrived on the scene at 21.02 to find the armoured Land Rover used by the BNF security unit burning in the station car park. They came under sustained automatic fire from the administration building and were forced to retreat.
At 21.04, Red and Blue teams left for Pitney Down in the four Army Air Corps Augusta 109 helicopters based at Hereford.
During the next 20 minutes, police established a perimeter around the reactor complex, deployed sniper teams and attempted to make contact with those inside the station. Although two individuals were spotted scaling the cooling tower, all attempts at communication failed.
At 21.12 an emergency meeting of the Cabinet, senior police officers, technical advisors and Director SAS was held in COBRA, the emergency briefing room in Downing Street. Director SAS informed those present that, as with other sensitive buildings in the UK, an IAP (Immediate Action Plan) had already been drawn up and tested for Pitney Down. He suggested that members of 23 SAS (Volunteers) who had tested the security at the reactor should also be alerted to offer what advice they could.
After a short meeting during which several scenarios were discussed, the Prime Minister gave clearance at 21.31 for an SAS assault on the reactor should the scene commander decide it was necessary.
The situation remained relatively unchanged until 21.42, when the SAS teams arrived at Pitney Down. Red Team, which included elements of B Squadron’s Boat Troop, deployed on the far shore of Pitney Lake, which is used as a source of water for the reactor’s cooling tower. The unit commander carried out a brief aerial reconnaissance before he joined the rest of Blue Team behind the cordon.
SAS snipers were deployed to supplement the police marksmen already in place.
At 22.05 the Pitney reactor appears to have been shut down. The lights at the station went out and power was briefly cut off in a wide area of Bristol. Fortunately contingency plans were already in place and other generators in the national grid provided extra power to the affected areas.
Technical advisors informed the scene commander that they believed the reactor was being tampered with directly, and he decided the situation had deteriorated sufficiently for him to order an assault. He briefly consulted with COBRA, and at 22.08 the Execute order was given.
Red Team assaulted across Pitney Lake on Gemini raiding craft rigged for silent running, while Blue Team were dropped by helicopter on to the roof of the administration building. Police and 22 SAS snipers successfully neutralized the male and female terrorists who had scaled the cooling tower.
There is some confusion over the next series of events. Blue Team was successful in assaulting the administration building. One trooper was slightly injured when he was caught on a window frame as he went into the building on the third floor.
Four individuals were neutralized in the reactor control room. An IED (Improvised Explosive Device) was also recovered, consisting of three 50-gallon fuel drums attached to a quantity of home-made explosives. Several technical staff had been taken hostage and were found unhurt in a store room. The area was declared clear at 22.34.
Red Team came under automatic fire from the base of the cooling tower as they deployed to retake the reactor itself. The maze-like structure consisted of many stairwells and blind corners, and there was considerable difficulty in locating and neutralizing the terrorists.
The first four-man section of Red Team was able to gain entry to the reactor building, sustaining one casualty in the process. The second section remained outside and was caught in a sustained gun battle.
It is here that the first major discrepancy in accounts of the operation appears. Several chemicals were stored in the cooling tower area, and it appears that tracer fire may have ignited them. In the resulting explosion, two members of the second section were killed. But one of the surviving troopers, Hart, has given a startlingly different account of events. He suggested that the water “came alive” and attacked the section. It was only when the explosion occurred that the attack ceased.
Post-mortems on the two dead soldiers have confirmed their bodies were exposed to a highly corrosive acid, similar to the substances in the cooling tower storage bay.
The leading section of Red Team entered the main building and engaged and neutralized another four-strong team of terrorists around the reactor chamber. Another IED identical to the one in administration was recovered.
Further disturbing claims were made during debriefing by Trooper Stewart. With some difficulty he described how he had become separated from the remaining two members of the fire-team in the reactor bay. Trooper Stewart discussed at some length a “pillared stone hall” where he encountered what he would only describe as “blind monsters”. When found after the area was secured, he was “shaking with terror” by the edge of the reactor bay. All of his ammunition was exhausted, even his sidearm. Home Office forensic experts have been unable to identify any strike marks or spent casings originating from his pistol or MP5. They did confirm both had been fired on several occasions.
Pitney Down reactor was declared secure at 22.54. Regular troops and police units moved into the area, and Army Technical Officers swept the area for other IEDs.
A total of 11 terrorists were killed during the operation; one was badly wounded and remains in a critical condition in hospital. Three members of Red Team were killed during the operation: Troopers Stanley and Foster and Sergeant McLean. Both Troopers Hart and Stewart have been declared unfit for duty.
Six members of UKAEAC staff were killed by the terrorists when they took over the facility.
Dr Owen, the regimental psychiatrist, has suggested in his preliminary debriefing of Troopers Hart and Stewart that both are suffering from acute Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD). I know them personally, and find this hard to believe. Both men are veterans of the Gulf war and Northern Ireland and have always been stable, well-adjusted soldiers. (See supplemental report PG-TH-4d)
One further point which deserves to be raised is the high standard of equipment used by the terrorists. It later transpired Red Team had come under fire from an M-60 general-purpose machinegun. Other terrorists were armed with fully automatic AK-47 or M16 assault rifles. Several had grenades and all were equipped with body armour.
I am of course available to discuss this matter in person at your convenience.
MAJOR G. ROWLAND, 22 SAS.