Skip to comments.Shocking Lapses in Security
Posted on 10/07/2001 2:55:38 PM PDT by Merovingian
Revealed: shocking lapses in security at British airports
By David Harrison, Transport Correspondent
AN urgent investigation was ordered by the Government last night after The Telegraph exposed shocking lapses in airport security which allowed a nine-inch knife to be taken on to a British Airways flight from Gatwick to America.
Security staff also failed to stop other "banned implements" being taken aboard the flight to Orlando, and an Air France flight from Heathrow to Miami. The objects included a 12-inch knitting needle and a sharp metal nail file.
The biggest concern centres on how a "Leatherman" multi-purpose tool, which converts into a deadly nine-inch knife, passed through security checks that were supposed to have been tightened after the terrorist attacks on America.
Even more disturbingly, the knife was picked up by an airport X-ray but allowed through by an official. When told the tool was "needed for work" the official said he would "turn a blind eye".
Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, said that he was "very concerned" by the security lapse and ordered an immediate investigation. "We are taking this very seriously. We have ordered airport security to be tightened since the terrorist attacks and we want to find out exactly why this was allowed to happen."
British Airways and the British Airports Authority took the security breaches "very seriously". BAA's head of security last night began trying to identify the staff responsible, particularly the official who found the knife and failed to confiscate it.
A spokesman for Air France said: "We are very concerned that this has happened because we saw the consequences of people taking knives on board airliners on September 11."
Eric Pickles, the Tory transport spokesman, said it was "vital" that security was tightened. "What is the point of announcing new security measures if they are not being enforced?" he said. Mr Pickles was "particularly alarmed" by the fact that the knife was allowed on board after it had been spotted by security staff. "They could have been putting the passengers' lives at risk.
"Staff are under pressure but they have to remember that not every terrorist looks like a member of the Taliban. They have to be extremely vigilant and very unforgiving."
Thousands of Westerners have converted to Islam, some of whom potentially could be recruited by extremists.
The Telegraph can also reveal that extra departure gate checks ordered by the Government are being carried out on only one in five passengers. A BAA official said the checks were being done on 20 per cent of passengers while BA said they were being carried out "on a random basis".
Asked about the small proportion of secondary checks at Gatwick and Heathrow, the BAA spokesman said: "Security has been upgraded in line with Department of Transport guidelines."
A spokesman for the department said: "The perceived threat goes up and down and the level of security will reflect that." Asked if that meant the threat had dropped by 80 per cent since September 11, he declined to comment.
British security appears to be inferior to that in some countries. While The Telegraph could take a number of potentially lethal implements on planes bound for America, a woman from East Sussex said she had nail scissors confiscated before a flight from Barcelona to Gatwick.
Air France has been criticised for asking passengers to arrive three hours before flights when there are no check-in staff available until the normal time. Last week many passengers arrived at 3.55am for the 6.55am flight from Heathrow to Paris when the check-in team did not arrive until 5.35am.
Diana Unwin, from Dorking, Surrey, who drove a friend to the airport said: "By the time they reached the gate any opportunity for prolonged searches had passed."
Their CCTV has everything recorded on tape. I know, because I saw something about it on C-SPAN this morning. The Discovery channel also runs programs all the time telling us how wonderful the CCTV system in England is. </sarcasm>