Road closure key to air base safety

By Dave GooderhamTERRORISTS could strike at the heart of one of the region's American air bases if a road bisecting RAF Lakenheath reopens, it has been claimed.

By Dave Gooderham

TERRORISTS could strike at the heart of one of the region's American air bases if a road bisecting RAF Lakenheath reopens, it has been claimed.

Thousands of US servicemen and their families could be put at risk - and Suffolk identified as an “attractive target” for a terrorist attack - unless Lords Walk is closed for good, military officials warned.

Community leaders have played down the fears, but base officials said reopening the road could “dramatically increase” the likelihood of an attack and endanger the lives of children taught at a school on the site.

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The call came as independent inspectors consider the future of the road following a heated planning inquiry last month.

Lieutenant-Colonel Kenneth Ribler, USAF chief of security forces, who compiled the risk report for consideration by the inquiry, said: “Opening Lords Walk would enable any potential terrorist to get much closer to these attractive targets to carry out an attack.

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“An attack from a closer range would likely result in a significant increase in the number of casualties and damage to these facilities that are predominantly utilised by spouses and children.

“If Lords Walk is reopened, an attack affecting large numbers of military and civilian personnel is dramatically increased merely by location.”

The road was originally shut on a rolling temporary basis following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and a decision about a permanent closure is expected next month.

Lt Col Ribler said: “Ministry of Defence sites present attractive targets to terrorist organisations and, therefore, there is a continued need to protect the general public who live and work on or in close proximity to these sites from the effects of any potential terrorist attack.

“The closure of Lords Walk allows the installation to significantly contribute to the safety and security of the public by directing a potential terrorist attack away from the local population.

“An attack not only creates the propensity for a large number of casualties, but also propagates a damaging effect to the communities' psyche for many years to come.”

The concerns from base chiefs drew a mixed reaction among community leaders.

Grenville Dale, chairman of Beck Row Residents' Association, said: “I can see the base's point of view as the world is full of idiots.

“But there is no more of a threat at the base than there has been in the past. If Americans are targeted, it is more likely to be in America or other parts of Europe.”

Bruce Rutterford, Lakenheath district councillor, added: “I personally would like to see the road temporarily closed and then if the Americans leave, we could look to reopen it.

“It has been said that the road is close to the nerve centre of the base, but in fact it is not. A road like the A1065 is also a target and Lords Walk is no more vulnerable than other parts.”

During last month's inquiry, campaigners fighting the closure plan claimed Eriswell Parish Council had accepted a £25,000 sweetener from the Ministry of Defence to back the proposal after it, along with Suffolk County Council, withdrew its objections at the last minute.

But council chairman Pearl Brunning said it had had to accept the money - for traffic improvements in the village - or face ending up with nothing.

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