Corrupt police chief handles airport safety

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The head of security at Manchester airport, which has witnessed two serious security breaches in recent weeks, is a former police chief with a criminal conviction for dishonesty.

The revelation comes ahead of a 36-hour strike by security staff at the airport next weekend that could lead to lengthy delays for passengers. Airport bosses want to slash the average wage of security staff from £23,000 to £12,600 and cut up to 200 jobs, out of 600 security staff.

One of the leading figures in the management negotiations is John Donnison, a former chief inspector with Leicestershire police. Donnison pleaded guilty in January 2000 to 14 charges of false accounting, and ordered to perform 200 hours' community service for fiddling his police expenses over a three-year period.

His role in the negotiations has infuriated union leaders who accuse the airport of gross hypocrisy in employing him. Security staff have a clause in their contract that allows the airport to summarily sack them if they have a criminal conviction.

Donnison is in charge of up to 700 staff and a total budget of reportedly more than £20m. He is believed to be on a salary of £70,000, £30,000 more than he earned as a police officer.

Phil Craven, Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) convenor at the airport, said: "Because of his past he has not got the integrity or the ability to build up the trust needed in the security department."

Manchester airport confirmed Donnison is head of security with the job title of fire and security services business manager. A spokeswoman said: "We are not going to talk about it. It's in the past and nothing to do with ability to do the job. I am not going to go there. It's not relevant."

Leicestershire police confirmed Donnison was a chief inspector working in the northern region at the time of the police investigation into his affairs. According to reports, he admitted inventing 236 car journeys to claim £1,200 while serving as an officer. A police spokeswoman said the investigation was taken "very seriously".

The airport spokeswoman said she was confident next weekend's 36-hour stoppage would not cause any disruption to passengers.

She said the airport wanted to cut average wages to what it claimed is a market rate of £12,600, but was offering staff compensation packages of as much as £62,000 to do so.

The change in working conditions affects 590 security staff, who have been given notice their contracts will end on 25 April. They are being told to take new contracts on much less favourable terms.

Unions are baffled by the airport's persistence in pursuing the cuts in the wake of worldwide security fears since 11 September. That has been compounded by security breaches at Manchester airport in recent weeks. Last week, a bag containing bomb-making equipment, guns, imitation explosives, three detonators and dummy bullets were smuggled on to a plane bound for Gatwick after they were missed by a security guard employed by private contractor Securicor ADI.

The airport also employs private contractors but the unions point out this security breach was the result of trying to employ workers on the cheap. The weapons were planted by Global Air Training, to test security procedures. Journalists have also smuggled knives and other weapons onto a flight at Manchester.

Dave McCall, TGWU regional spokesman, said: "Manchester aiport tells us the two breaches of security at the airport last week were not related to the dispute. That has got to be the biggest load of nonsense any of us have ever heard. Both the breaches took place in areas where cut price security has already been introduced at this airport. If they continue we will get that sort of breach happening over and over again."