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SDLP's Ritchie demands reasons for cover-up over failed Trident nuclear missile test

By Chris McCullough

SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie has demanded that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) explains why it hid a Trident missile malfunction only weeks before a Westminster vote on renewing the £40bn nuclear deterrent.

The Sunday Times revealed at the weekend that a serious fault in Trident was covered up by Downing Street before the crucial House of Commons vote to back the weapons system.

The newspaper said a Trident II D5 missile experienced an alarming failure after being launched from a submarine off the coast of Florida in June last year.

The safety of this weapons system has been called into question by opponents after the incident, which was the first time in four years that a British nuclear missile had been test fired.

According to The Sunday Times, the Trident missiles have been test-fired only five times by UK submarines this century because they each cost £17m.

The South Down MP said the SDLP has consistently opposed the government's investment in a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction while raining down cuts on the health service, education and social security.

Ms Ritchie said: "If there is evidence of a malfunction in Britain's Trident nuclear missile system, it cannot be covered up or dissembled.

"The Ministry of Defence needs to come forward with information about this incident and come clean about why it attempted to suppress it ahead of a major Westminster vote on renewing Trident.

"How can any MP have confidence in the Trident system or in the valueless word of the MoD after this? Be under no illusion, the attempt to conceal this malfunction was a deliberate tactic to shore up a Commons vote.

"This government cannot continue parading like an imperial power while the public suffers devastating austerity."

It's still a mystery as to what caused the failure or on what precise date the incident occurred. A naval source told the Sunday Times that the missile, which was unarmed for the test, had veered off in the wrong direction towards America.

The source said: "There was a major panic at the highest level of government and the military after the first test of our nuclear deterrent in four years ended in disastrous failure.

"Ultimately Downing Street decided to cover up the failed test. If the information was made public, they knew how damaging it would be to the credibility of our nuclear deterrent. The upcoming Trident vote made it all the more sensitive."

The malfunction happened before Theresa May became Prime Minister, but she made no mention of it when she persuaded Parliament to spend £40bn on new Trident submarines in her first big speech in July.

The PM would not be drawn specifically on whether she knew about the incident during that speech when quizzed on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday.

She said: "When I made that speech in the House of Commons, what we were talking about was whether or not we should renew our Trident, whether or not we should have Trident missiles, an independent nuclear deterrent in the future.

"I think we should defend our country, I think we should play our role in Nato with an independent nuclear deterrent."

MPs have now called on Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to make a statement on the incident in the House of Commons today as well as demanding an inquiry into it.

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