Cutbacks planned in airport security

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Brian Mawhinney, the Secretary of State for Transport, will be questioned in the Commons today after a leaked letter revealed that sharp cuts in checks on security measures at airports are to be made.

A letter leaked to Channel 4 News over the weekend revealed that a third of the 100 staff of Transec, the Department of Transport division responsible for overseeing security measures at both UK and overseas ports and airports, are to go.

The cuts will, in particular, lead to the scrapping of the teams of security experts who for the past two years have been checking security levels at overseas airports used by UK airlines. Their work was instigated by ministers following the 1988 Lockerbie disaster, which was caused by a bomb on the aircraft being left by a transit passenger who started his journey in Germany.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed in the Lockerbie disaster, said: "We were promised that airport security would be stepped up to ensure that lives were no longer at risk and, indeed, improvements were being made slowly. We were also told that money was not an issue. Now these improvements are likely to be reversed as a result of these cuts."

He pointed out that aviation security was suffering particularly because the level of cuts was being based on expenditure levels in the early 1990s. The subsequent rises in spending on airport security would, therefore, not be taken into account when making the cuts.

Lord Goschen, the aviation minister, said that the bulk of the cuts would fall on "civil servants" rather than security staff. However, the leaked letter, from Harry Ditmas, the chief inspector of transport security, stresses that enforcement levels willbe affected.

Departmental sources suggested the work of the overseas teams would be finished by the time the cuts were to be implemented in April next year.