Airport staff face strict new vetting procedures in security crackdown

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The Independent Online

Tighter checks on security staff at airports are among the new measures to be introduced in the wake of the two multimillion-pound robberies at Heathrow, it was announced yesterday.

Tighter checks on security staff at airports are among the new measures to be introduced in the wake of the two multimillion-pound robberies at Heathrow, it was announced yesterday.

Security passes to restricted zones at airports will also be harder to obtain. The Heathrow robbers were able to use staff passes to drive through checkpoints during the raids.

The recent robberies have been deeply embarrassing for the management at Heathrow airport, which was supposed to be on a heightened security alert after the 11 September attack in America.

A security review was set up after the first robbery on 11 February when a two-man gang escaped with more than US$6m (£4.2m) in cash from a British Airways security vehicle parked in a secure zone. On 19 March, £2.2m in cash was stolen as it was being transferred from a South African Airlines flight to a security van.

Over the next few months closed-circuit television coverage at airports will be reviewed and plans produced for improvements in both the amount and quality of coverage. Last week Britain's most senior anti-terrorist police officer, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner David Veness, criticised the lack of cameras at airports and said many high streets had a more comprehensive system of monitors.

The security measures, agreed by Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport, and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, include:

* New requirements governing the identification, recovery and deletion of security passes that have been lost, or are no longer needed.

* Counter-terrorist checks on security staff will be extended and more people will have their criminal records checked.

* The Department of Transport will issue advice on handling high-value cargo at airports.

* Airport security committees will be given an enhanced role.

* A new national standard for the issue of restricted zone passes will be sent to airport security managers.

Mr Byers also announced his decision to use new powers provided in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 to enable the Transport Department to list aviation security companies approved by the department's transport security division. Airlines and airports will be required to use only listed companies, a register of which will be in place by the end of the year.

Mr Blunkett said: "Security at Heathrow is clearly a vital component in safeguarding the UK as a whole. The recent robberies demonstrated an urgent need to review existing measures and to tighten airside security.

"A series of recommendations has been put forward and the working group will be looking at whether additional measures are needed."

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