Mercifully there were no acts of political violence during the London Olympics. So was the extent of the Olympic security operation – the biggest the UK has seen since the second world war – necessary? Despite fears about its impact and image, security does not seem to have had much of a negative effect on the games. The thousands of soldiers drafted in at the last minute to help with security procedures were almost invisible in the TV coverage. The just-in-time trained G4S security staff escaped mishap, and there were no long security queues at venues. One of the biggest cheers from the crowd during Lord Coe’s closing speech was for ‘those who kept us safe’. Compare this to the dreaded ‘what ifs’ of security and it seems like a job well done.

This leads to a self-validating conclusion: this was the right amount security, not too much to hinder…

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Two weeks before the start of the London 2012 Olympics, its security arrangements began to fall apart. G4S, a private security company contracted to provide 10,000 security guards revealed that it would miss this target by several thousand. The government called in the army to provide the missing labour. Nick Buckles, chief executive of G4S, was called in front on a parliamentary committee to account for the failings, where he was forced to accept it was a ‘humiliating shambles’ for his company.

What was striking about this episode was its banality in the context of the largest British security operation since the Second World War. The G4S failure was due to vetting and recruitment problems, doubts about staff turning up for shifts, lack of internal company reporting mechanisms, and bad management generally. The press also reported a lack of staff schedules, uniforms or training on scanning machines. This…

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