Secret tapes found at car boot sale

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The Ministry of Defence announced an investigation last night after video tapes of secret army anti-terrorist training exercises were sold to a member of the public at a car boot sale.

The sale of the video footage, showing soldiers training for a variety of counter-terrorist scenarios in Northern Ireland, will be a major embarrassment to the army. The tapes were bought by Bob Tomalski at a car boot sale in Coventry as part of a job lot of second-hand electronic equipment. Four video tapes, containing about two hours of film, were bought by Mr Tomalski, together with a video recorder and other equipment. He said he was "horrified" when he saw what was on the tapes.

The black and white footage shows a series of exercises at the army's main Northern Ireland training centre. The mock-up of Ulster streets is realistic down to the finest detail, with an Irish pub, chip shop and accurate sectarian graffitti sprayed on the walls. Exercises shown include a simulated van mortar bomb attack, like the one launched on Downing Street by the IRA, joyriders crashing through an army checkpoint and sniper fire on an army patrol. The tapes also outline army rules of engagement, an historically sensitive issue in Ulster.

Packaged together with the Betamax tapes were a series of slips of paper, marked with army jargon and a briefing paper for one of the exercises, clearly marked "secret". Colonel Michael Dewar, an expert on counter-terrorism who served several tours of duty in Northern Ireland, said the tapes give an inside view of army counter-terrorist techniques: "This, if the IRA got hold of it, would give them a clear insight into military tactics and capabilities - the sort of detail I believe they have not had before. I believe it would put soldiers' lives a risk."

The Labour Party condemned the security lapse and called for an inquiry, while an MoD spokesman said the matter would be investigated.