Is Portland Port really secure?

Is Portland Port really secure?

Urban explorers get onto Portland Port land. So could anyone.

Not far from where the Bibby Stockholm is berthed at Portland Port is another, very different part of the port’s estate. It’s thickly overgrown with brambles, and between areas of flat ground are very steep banks – but what makes it irresistible to urban explorers are the “rather spooky collection of buildings ranging from Victorian military emplacements to a more recent military training area”.

The area has been closed to the public for over 100 years; that’s why locals call it ‘the Forbidden City‘. Nevertheless, the most determined – whatever their agenda – ignore the big warning signs, squeeze through the tall fences, shimmy past the anti-vandal paint, and brave the brambles. At that point, 10 hectares of land open up to them. And it looks like it wouldn’t be too difficult to get near the barge.

The signs are old, the fences have gaps, and there are no patrols up here. Portland Port clearly hasn’t kept up with securing the entire estate, and the Home Office hasn’t done a thorough tour or asked the right questions. There are vulnerabilities.

Location of the Forbidden City, Portland Port.

How do we know people get in?

Below is a video made by a small group of urban explorers in 2016. Since then, 11 other people have been convicted of trespassing at Portland Port (2019), and a photographer visited the Forbidden City (2021).

How concerned should we be?

It wouldn’t be right to divulge entry points or the security flaws we’ve learned about. But the port area is very large, and it’s not possible to constantly surveil every inch with CCTV, or to respond quickly enough, especially on the tricky terrain we’ve described. Especially if a diversion were to be staged at the other end of the port.

The very significant rise in far-right sentiment on Portland, including the presence of neo-Nazi groups from elsewhere in the UK, is a serious concern. Locals have already threatened to sink, burn or bomb the barge, as revealed by citizen-journalism title Dorset Eye on 11 August. Concerns have been expressed by community groups about potential violence against asylum-seekers on the streets. Taxi firms, a security company, the barge management firm and Dorset Council have all received threatening letters. There has been at least one death threat.

Fear hangs over Portland like a sea mist.

What’s security like at the port?

Up-front, of course, it all looks good. It’s all about the optics, no? The main port gates, at the top of a street called Castletown, are secure. The port itself bristles with CCTV. Portland Port is providing ‘specialist 24/7 security’ for the Bibby Stockholm from its own port police and security team (although the locals we spoke to don’t think the size of the team has been beefed up with the arrival of the barge). That team also looks after the gates into the compound at the head of the berth, where the men can exercise and catch a bus to Weymouth. Meanwhile, the Home Office has contracted CTM to provide specialist 24/7 security on the vessel itself.

But is it enough? There’s a back door, and it’s been left ajar.

What about the police?

Dorset Police is the second most poorly funded police force in the country. So they got a ‘special payment’ of £520,000 from the Home Office to cover the extra cost of patrols because of the barge, and to deal with the far right. However, according to the locals we’ve spoken to, the police simply aren’t dealing with the far right. Which is why there was such a pile of filth to publish in that Dorset Eye article. So where IS that £520,000 going?

The men didn’t ask to be contained on the barge. They didn’t ask for Legionella, or the disruption and uncertainty of moving on and off and on again (at some point, unless the whole thing gets scrapped). They certainly didn’t ask to be made vulnerable, whether to the far right or to potential trafficking or county lines gangs.

More than ever, they deserve our protection – and certainly the protection that taxpayers are told they’re paying for.