US military's London ban 'disgraceful'

A BAN on Suffolk-based US service personnel visiting London was today described as "disgraceful".US military staff were today waiting to hear whether the ban on them visiting the capital in the wake of last week's bombings would be lifted.

A BAN on Suffolk-based US service personnel visiting London was today described as "disgraceful".

US military staff were today waiting to hear whether the ban on them visiting the capital in the wake of last week's bombings would be lifted.

War veterans and politicians attacked the ban – saying it gave the signal that the terrorists had won on the streets of London.

Defence secretary John Reid said today that the ban was being "urgently reviewed."

He said the ban was imposed locally by base commanders at Lakenheath and Mildenhall – and was not a general order from the US government.

However Peter Thompson from the Royal British Legion in Ipswich was appalled.

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He said: "I think it is disgraceful. We never made any statements like this when they had their problems (at 9/11).

"I cannot understand it – I thought the Americans were supposed to be helping us.

"I have heard Dr Reid and I understand that it isn't official American policy – but it gives all the wrong messages. So far as the Americans in Suffolk are concerned the terrorists have won."

Ipswich MP Chris Mole said he could understand the Americans immediately stopping their personnel from travelling to London on Thursday and Friday.

"But now things have become clearer they really should reconsider their position.

"I understand this was a local decision, and now the authorities in Suffolk should reconsider their position."

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Rt Rev Richard Lewis, is currently at the general synod of the church in York – but a diocesan spokesman Nick Clarke said so far as the church was concerned it was "business as usual" so far as London was concerned.

He said: "We have to show that we will not give in to terrorists, and we won't be put off travelling to London whether for business or pleasure."

The directive was considered by the US authorities at the bases to be the most effective measure to protect their troops.

But Dr Reid said that decision was being reconsidered and he insisted the US government had offered its full support.

"You will not be surprised to know that my people have been in touch already with the American embassy,' he said.

"I understand this is being urgently reviewed. It was a local decision taken locally.

"It was a temporary measure in the immediate aftermath of last Thursday's bombings and this statement was made last Friday.'

Dr Reid said that - at that stage - no one knew the size of the attack or the potential damage caused.

But in a defence of the US, he said: "From the first moments of this, the Americans have been unstinting in their support."

US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld rang up immediately after the attacks to see if the US could assist, he added.

Matt Tulis, a spokesman at RAF Mildenhall, said: "We are concerned about the safety of our folks and are trying to do what we can to protect them.

"This is the best course of action right now."

The directive flies in the face of the message being conveyed by police and city chiefs in the US and the UK who have been publicly taking the Underground.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said London was "open for business" as he took the Tube from King's Cross yesterday.

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