We Snuck Into a Top Security Olympic Arena
Our new film about London 2012, The VICE Guide to the Olympics, came out today. Watch it here.
Since the early 90s, G4S, the company hired to provide security for the London 2012 Olympics, has overseen more than its fair share of fuck ups. Their recent record is smeared by a scandal in 2010, when an Angolan detainee named Jimmy Mubenga died in their custody on a British Airways flight. Mainstream and social media has rounded on the firm in the lead up to the Olympics, and after a series of well-publicised (or badly obscured) mistakes, the agency's name has become synonymous with failure even before the first flag has been twirled in earnest by a beatific child at the opening ceremony.
G4S's meteoric rise to public infamy can be attributed to a gross underestimation of the manpower needed to pull off guarding one of the world's greatest spectacles. Three-and-a-half thousand army troops had to be drafted in to do the job the government paid G4S to do. Those staff they have managed to corral into working have often been poorly vetted, resulting in no-shows as high as 66 percent at some Olympic locations. All this in a couple of months. As a result, the entire country fucking hates them. MPs hate them, their own staff hate them, you probably hate them and their shareholders hate them (G4S shares dropped nine percent after they claimed they were facing a £50million loss due to improper training of staff).
Then, yesterday, VICE journalist Graham Johnson told us he'd snuck into a prominent Olympic site, wearing a highly sophisticated disguise comprised of a hi-vis jacket and a hard hat. Oh, G4S, when will the face-palm moments end? Stop hitting yourself, G4S! Why do you keep hitting yourself?! You're so dumb.
You might remember Graham, by the way. In the past, we've spoken to him a lot about tabloid journalism and riots – the News of the World used to employ him as a disgraceful bully (his words), and he called the militarisation of the police waaay before last year's UK riots made that seem like a possibility.
Here, Graham explains how a tray of cups of tea and a face like a builder will pretty much get you in anywhere. Including high-security Olympic venues, like the O2, or the North Greenwich Arena, as LOCOG have temporarily re-branded it.
VICE: Hi Graham, how are you?
Graham: Good, yeah.
So what's the deal with these videos you've taken?
I wanted to test out the security at the O2, or North Greenwich Arena as it's currently known. Because of all the hype surrounding G4S security, I decided to blag my way in there last Monday. It's a secure Olympic place, the public aren’t allowed into the central arena, 'cos they’re refitting it for the gymnastics and basketball events.
So they just let you in?
It was really easy. I’ve been blagging my way into places in just a high-vis jacket for a while. I just bought one for a fiver from Wickes, as well as a blue helmet, and I’ve been doing that for years. Honestly, you can get in anywhere if you look like a builder. I got waved through the first gate by a G4S security guard, and then I started talking to a second security guard who just let me walk through to the backstage area. That's where all the offices for the Olympic officials are.
You’ve got the International Sports Federation president and the secretary-general’s office and the dressing rooms and so on – all the real bigwigs, and also the offices earmarked for the victory celebrations. I started talking to this other guard about football, it was his first day and he was pissed off because he wasn't allowed to sit down. His name was [omitted]. He told me the guy who was doing his job before him had been sacked for falling asleep. So he let me pass and then I was able to go into the main stadium, into the stands, into the executive boxes, you know, the ones owned by all the big corporations that are funding the Olympics.
Did you have any name on the jacket, or was it just plain?
No, it was just a basic high-vis from Wickes. I was just wandering around doing videos on the iPhone.
And literally no one asked you what you were doing there?
No one asked me what I was doing there or asked for any ID. Every Olympic contractor or anyone who works in these places often has two or three passes. There’s the basic London 2012 contractor pass, then you’d probably have a swipe card and various other forms of ID, but no one asked me for it. In 1999, when the Millennium Dome was built, the head of the Metropolitan police said, “No one can get into the Millennium Dome, it’s on lockdown before Tony Blair and the Queen get there.” But again, I bought a high-vis jacket and a hard hat and walked in. That time I was carrying four cups of tea. If you ever get stopped trying to get in somewhere, go outside and buy a tray full of cups of tea, and then walk through. I’ve used that all over the world, I’ve used that to get into all kinds of places, and it’s always worked. No one ever stops you.
Which other places did you get into using tea?
I’ve got into loads of VIP sporting events and celebrity events. If you haven’t got a ticket for a concert, or you want to get backstage, you can always do that. I remember getting into Wembley once before a cup final and I actually got into the centre circle. I walked onto the pitch, into the centre circle, about 15 minutes before the game kicked off just for a laugh. No one said anything. Who’s gonna say anything? Everyone thought I was the head groundsman or something. And then I got into numerous factories in Pakistan and India, you know, doing investigations into child slavery. You can’t get into these places because they’re protected and all that business, but I’ve got into them.
Why do you think people are so trusting?
A high-vis jacket has become the costume for anyone who’s official, including the police, builders, inspectors of every kind. Even security guards and the bosses of these places are often a bit sheepish about approaching people in these jackets who look like they know what they’re doing.
Obviously the sense of debacle that has been engulfing G4S has a lot to do with the drafting in of the armed forces for Olympic security. When you went into the arena, were there many troops?
No, there weren’t any troops and obviously G4S haven’t trained enough guards to guard it, or the guards they have aren't good enough. It was wide open. There was hundreds of thousands of pounds of equipment just lying there.
What sort of equipment?
Hundreds of state of the art computer terminals for the Olympic judges. Then was also a giant cube the size of a van that lights up in Olympic colours. It’s like a piece of artwork or something, but I assume it’s going to turn into a scoreboard. All the Olympic rings are hanging up, and all the flags and stuff. I could have started a fire, or planted a bomb, or you know... sabotaged a 400-volt electrical substation, which should have been bolted shut but was left open.
Have you contacted G4S about it?
Yeah, I spoke to them on Friday and they emailed me the quote on Friday afternoon.
And their quote was that it’s a "very serious" security breach and they’re investigating it?
Yeah, it just says that. And they don’t usually say things like that, you know.
They’ve not released a statement publicly or anything, they’ve just spoken to you?
No, they’ve just spoken to me.
So I guess if anyone wanted to do something insidious, they could have done it already, for all we know. What do you think G4S's staff should have done? Do you think you should have been asked for ID?
Well yeah, you should be asked for ID. And you should be stopped and questioned – where are you going? What are you doing here? Who you working for? It’s all sealed off, there’s no way they should be allowing me into the offices where all the bigwigs are going to be. The problem is the security guards are on £8.50 an hour. After tax, they go home with a fiver an hour, which is not a lot for an 18-year-old kid. Well, it’s not a lot for anyone, but some of the guards are like, 50-year-old former Ghurkhas, you know what I mean? So, my argument would be you’ve got to pay people a lot better if you want to secure these places better, but the problem with private security is that they’re trying to cut the contract to the margin so much that they don’t pay people enough money to...
...give a shit?
What was the deal with the Bengali bloke? It was his first day on the job, was he kind of looking up to you for a bit of advice on what to do?
Yeah, he was about 18, a kid from east London. He told me, “The boss has just been round, and he’s just spoken to me really fucking badly, he’s just told me to get up off the seat.” And then he said to me, “This is my manor, I’m from east London. I know loads of people round here.” He was saying like, “How dare he speak to me like that.” So he was kind of venting his anger at me, and I was just talking to him, and we got talking about football. If you ever get stopped and you’re in a sticky situation, just start talking about football. Everyone likes to talk bollocks, next minute you’re someone’s mate and you’re in.
Did you at any point get asked to leave, or did you just leave of your own accord?
No, I just left after an hour and a half because I couldn’t film any more on my iPhone, it was full. I was getting bored anyway and needed to get home to see the kids. So I left at about 7.20PM. I got in there about 5.45PM, I think.
What were the dressing rooms like?
Luxurious. Usually the O2 is quite a Spartan, industrial venue, and the offices are quite bleak. But this had nice wallpaper with a kind of floral pattern on it, and a really nice hardwood floor and a nice ornate kind of wardrobe. I assume that’s where Bruce Springsteen or whoever puts his jacket before he goes out and plays.
Was there any gym equipment set up in there yet?
No, there wasn’t. I was looking forward to having a go on the trampolines, but it hadn’t been set up. I could have said I was the Team GB trampolining captain come to test it out.
Or quality control or something…
Yeah, quality control, health and safety. No one’s gonna stop you.
What do you think are the implications of being able to waltz in so easily?
I think there are several implications. Number one, most security stories are made to instil fear in the public. My personal opinion is that there’s no such thing as the al-Qaeda and terrorism threat… in London, it's much less than we’re led to believe. But that wasn’t my point. Number two is that G4S have been given so much money to secure the games and it’s taken so long to plan the Olympics, that they should have it down. They should have it completely secure. It’s not very hard to do. That was my point. And number three, if you can wander in with a £10 builder’s costume on, it’s pretty rubbish, and if I was the president or the secretary general of the IF – that’s what they call it, the International Federation – I’d be pissed off. That’s my take on it. I get asked to do security stories all the time by the papers, and I turn most of them down because they are hype, and they just spread fear, but I’ve done this one to prove a little point.
Alright, understood. Thanks for the chat, Graham.
Our new film about London 2012, The VICE Guide to the Olympics, came out today. Watch it here.
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