Thousands of passports and visas stolen from van

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The Independent Online

Thieves who escaped with 3,000 blank passports and visas worth £2.5m were helped by the fact that the Foreign Office, who had taken charge of the documents, has no armoured vehicles.

The documents, packed in 24 brown cardboard boxes and intended for distribution to embassies and consulates abroad, were stolen from the back of a van in Chadderton, near Oldham. Greater Manchester police said yesterday that they believed two men were involved.

The Identity and Passport Service said the electronic passports would not work because of high-tech embedded security features. But fraud experts said they could be used to travel where chip technology is not used.

These passports had been given to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be taken abroad. An FCO spokesman said: "We have used non-armoured security vans for 15 years without incident." The raid happened at 6.40am on Monday when the driver stopped to buy a newspaper, leaving a second security guard in the van. The van doors were opened suddenly, the guard was threatened and had his head forced onto the dashboard, causing minor injuries. The van was driven a short distance to a side street, where the raiders took the goods.

The raid was carried out so quickly that the police are investigating the possibility that they knew what to look for. Detective Chief Inspector Bill McGreavy said: "The offenders have not taken all the items from the van."

It is an embarrassment for the Government, which wants to persuade the public to trust biometric passports as a step towards ID cards. Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve, said: "This illustrates how the Government is wrong to rely on biometric technology to keep us safe, which experts have shown can be easily cloned."