Inquiry launched into loss of Heathrow security dossier

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard began an internal inquiry yesterday after a police officer responsible for security at Heathrow "lost" a secret dossier containing counter-terrorism plans for the airport.

Scotland Yard began an internal inquiry yesterday after a police officer responsible for security at Heathrow "lost" a secret dossier containing counter-terrorism plans for the airport.

The document, which identified 62 sites from which al- Qa'ida terrorists might fire missiles, was reportedly found by a motorist "flapping at the roadside" and handed to The Sun newspaper.

David Blunkett described the disappearance of the papers, which are understood to have been found near a petrol station close to the airport's perimeter fence, as very bad.

Early indications suggest a member of the Metropolitan Police unit, SO18 - Aviation Security Command - lost or mislaid the papers, which comprised an operation document drawn up in June. Dozens of SO18 officers were using the report to check security around Heathrow. The inquiry will examine what measures the officers took to protect the information and what systems operate to ensure the safety of sensitive documents.

As well as identifying sites from which terrorists might fire missiles at aircraft, the report revealed information about escape routes, evacuation plans and road closures. The dossier contained maps and photographs and confidential details of police patrol times, use of dog units and deployment of rooftop snipers. Dated 26 June 2004, the dossier gave surveillance and assessment information valid until December.

Terrorism experts said the dossier could be very dangerous in the wrong hands, although police sources suggested that most of the information could be fairly easily obtained. An investigation is being headed by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Roberts of Scotland Yard's Directorate of Professional Standards.

Mr Blunkett said yesterday: "The plans were obviously very good. Somebody disposing of them in a way that allowed that to happen is very bad."

The Home Office minister Hazel Blears promised to look at what action could be taken to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Scotland Yard said: "We have launched an internal inquiry into the circumstances of how these documents went missing and will take the appropriate action when we have ascertained the facts surrounding the matter.

"The documents have been returned to Metropolitan Police possession."

Professor Paul Wilkinson, director of St Andrews University's Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, described the incident as "very worrying indeed".

He said terrorist organisations had demonstrated their intention to attack civil aviation targets and highlighted the 11 September hijackings and attempted missile attack on a passenger jet in Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002.

Last year, the Metropolitan Police mounted a high-profile security operation at Heathrow airport in which thousands of police were deployed alongside soldiers and tanks.

"These are the kind of documents that, by definition, must be kept to a very high level of confidentiality," Professor Wilkinson said. "We should not underestimate the damage that could be done if this sort of thing got into the wrong hands."

A CATALOGUE OF OFFICIAL CARELESSNESS

The lost documents are the latest in a string of embarrassing security lapses in recent years.

In May, details of the security arrangements of Maxine Carr, girlfriend of the murderer Ian Huntley, were stolen from the car of a Home Office official days before she was due to be released from prison. The papers were later dumped on Hampstead Heath.

In April 2002, thieves stole the keys to the control room of an atomic energy plant in Harwell, Oxfordshire, and confidential papers from a car.

Earlier that year figures revealed that 1,350 government laptops had been lost or stolen in the previous five years. The Ministry of Defence was the worst culprit, losing nearly 600 laptops between 1999 and January 2002, with the Department for Work and Pensions not far behind at 419.

An MI6 officer mislaid a laptop computer containing secret information after drinking at a tapas bar in Vauxhall, London, in March 2000. Four days earlier, a MI5 laptop with confidential Northern Ireland security information was stolen from Paddington Tube station.

In the same month the laptop of the then Armed Forces minister John Spellar was stolen from his home in Bromley, Kent.

In 1997 a homeless intruder broke into the Treasury and attempted to access Budget information from computers.

More than 300 paintings loaned by the Government Art Collection to Whitehall departments were found to be missing in 1996.

In 1994 MPs were told that large amounts of plastic explosives, detonators and sub-machine guns had gone missing after troops were withdrawn from Germany at the end of the Cold War.

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