BA `in breach of arms licence'

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Home Affairs Correspondent

British Airways could be prosecuted for illegally storing arms at Heathrow airport.

Scotland Yard confirmed last night that a file had been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service "in connection with several alleged breaches of firearms regulations".

The accusation is that the airline failed to renew its licence for the storage of weapons.

News of the police inquiry is a serious embarrassment for Britain's biggest airline, which moves weapons all round the world - and holds the contract for the Ministry of Defence.

It is understood that BA's licence ran out at the beginning of November and so far the Home Office, responsible for licensing, has not issued a new one, even though British Airways has applied.

The allegations are understood to relate to two shipments of munitions held at Heathrow cargo centre that month and that since then BA has had to suspend its arms and munitions contracts.

BA is one of several airlines at Heathrow normally authorised to store weapons shipments - either in transit to other countries or for collection by British dealers. But licences are also required to handle individual weapons, brought in by visiting diplomats, heads of state or celebrities, who normally travel with armed guards.

Those airlines without storage licences, place any weapons into the care or customs or police at Heathrow.

Last night the Home Office said it could not discuss individual licence applications. A spokesman for British Airways said the incident had arisen because of an "administrative oversight. We have been reported to the CPS for consideration in respect of two alleged offences under section 5 (licensing) of the Firearms Act and formally cautioned. The matter is now in the hands of the CPS and there is nothing further we can add at this stage."

It will be several weeks before the CPS decides whether or not to proceed against the airline.