Former anti-terror chief: 'Flight restrictions should remain'

Restrictions on taking liquids on to planes should stay in place, Britain's former counter-terror chief said today.

Andy Hayman, a former Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner who was in charge of the UK's counter-terrorism policy and operations until last year, said changing the rules again would simply create "confusion".

The restrictions were introduced in 2006 after the discovery of a plot to blow up planes using liquid bombs disguised as soft drinks, a plan which could have caused more carnage than the September 11 attacks.

Islamic extremists Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain were found guilty of conspiracy to murder by detonating the bombs on airliners yesterday following the largest ever counter-terrorism operation in the UK.

As the men face life sentences, it today emerged that new scanners are being trialled at Newcastle Airport which could identify potential explosives disguised as everyday liquids.

Mr Hayman said: "My view is that following the disruption that we had in 2006 the public has got drilled into what's expected in view of passenger safety.

"We are aware of this new technology that's been developed in the last two or three years.

"It's my view that to try and go back to what we had just adds to the confusion.

"What we'd like is to have the technology in place as well as the restrictions, then people know what's expected."

Mr Hayman described yesterday's convictions as "a very good result" but added that it was "bittersweet".

"These people have now been found guilty but now the public is aware of the lengths that people will go to, which is very scary," he said.

The jury failed to reach verdicts on charges relating to four other defendants but Mr Hayman said he did not believe that a second retrial would be "wise".

"To go into another retrial, I don't think it would be a wise thing to do. We have got the main ringleader."

The police investigation which led to the trial cost more than £35 million and the two trials ran up an estimated bill for a further £100 million.

Mr Hayman said the price was worth paying if lives were saved as a consequence.

"I remember facing all the survivors and bereaved families of the victims of 7/7 and seeing the pain etched on their faces," he said.

"I don't know how I could stand in front of future victims and say I don't think it was worth the money.

"I don't think there's a price we can put to this."

Gordon Brown paid tribute today to all those involved in the counter-terrorism operation leading to yesterday's convictions.

His spokesman told a daily briefing of journalists in Westminster: "The Prime Minister wishes to express publicly his gratitude to the police, security and intelligence agencies and all those involved in the work they did.

"Their professionalism and dedication prevented lives being lost in this country to terrorism."

The British-born terrorists, controlled and funded by al Qaida masterminds in Pakistan, planned to detonate home-made liquid bombs, concealed within 500ml Oasis or Lucozade bottles, on flights bound for major North American cities.

Ali, 28, of Walthamstow, east London, was inspired by the July 7 bombers and Osama bin Laden and considered taking his baby son on his suicide mission.

Police said the plot was drawn up in Pakistan with detailed instructions passed to Ali during frequent trips to its lawless border with Afghanistan.

Surveillance teams watched as the unemployed former shop worker used cash to purchase a £138,000 second-floor flat in Forest Road, Walthamstow, east London.

They planted a secret bug which revealed the property had been converted into a bomb factory.

The flat was also used as a location for Ali and others to record suicide videos threatening further attacks against the West.

In his video, Ali warned the British public to expect "floods of martyr operations" which would leave body parts scattered in the streets.

Along with Ali, Sarwar 29, of Walton Drive, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and Hussain, 28, of Nottingham Road, Leyton, east London, will be sentenced for the airliner plot on Monday.

The trio were convicted of conspiracy to murder in the first trial last year but retried, along with five other men, for the airliner plot after the first jury failed to reach verdicts on those charges.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on Umar Islam, 31, of Bushey Road, Plaistow, east London, in connection with the airliner plot.

But Islam was convicted of conspiracy to murder and will also be sentenced next week.

Adina Ezekiel, for the prosecution, said a decision would be announced on Monday about whether they would seek a re-trial of four other men.

The arrest of the gang in August 2006 sparked tight restrictions on carrying liquids on to aircraft which initially caused travel chaos.

Current rules state that travellers can only carry 100ml containers on to an aircraft and the bottles or tubs must fit into a re-sealable bag measuring 20cm by 20cm.

Major airlines and the British Airports Authority have since called for the rules to be eased or reviewed.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Airlines said: "With better technology coming on stream, it is appropriate to review the restrictions to ensure passengers are able to make as easy a journey as possible through airport security checks."

The new hi-tech scanner, developed by Sedgefield-based firm Kromek, uses an X-ray beam to distinguish between harmless liquids, such as water or alcohol, and potential explosives such as hydrogen peroxide.

Kromek's Dr Arnab Basu told Sky News: "If you are trying to carry a liquid which looks and weighs very similar, but is very different in nature, this machine will recognise it very reliably."

A British Airways spokesman said: "We have always supported rigorous security screening on the ground.

"Any new security procedures that lead to a smoother journey for our passengers while improving aviation safety is welcome.

"We would like to see security procedures harmonised internationally to avoid confusion and make compliance easier. It would be unhelpful to maintain a liquid ban at some airports and not at others."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Trials of liquid scanning machines are now taking place in various European locations and the UK has significant involvement in the technical aspects of this work.

"The timing of any easing in the current restrictions will depend on the results of these trials, but in the meantime the present restrictions must remain in place in order to address the real and serious threat from liquid explosives.

"Protecting the travelling public is our highest priority and we will not do anything that puts passengers at risk."

David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight International magazine, said: "My view is that introducing this could take some time and even then it will be run alongside the current plastic-bags regime. This will mean that it may be a while before life gets any easier for airline passengers.

"I am sure airports and airlines would be only too happy to see equipment introduced that would speed people through airports.

"However, airport security is a matter for Government departments and it seems that either lethargy or a distrust of the system is preventing new equipment being brought in."

Mr Learmount said he had seen the scanners in use and it could even "tell the difference between Pepsi and Coca-Cola".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
FIFA President Sepp Blatter reacts during a news conference in Zurich June 1, 2011
Life and Style
food + drink
peopleKatie Hopkins criticises River Island's 'seize the day' bags for trying to normalise epilepsy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family
film'I survived it, but I’ll never be the same,' says Arash Amel
Life and Style
Retailers should make good any consumer goods problems that occur within two years
tech(and what to do if you receive it)
Life and Style
healthIf one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada