Security at airports 'increases risk of terror'

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The Independent Online

A world authority on terrorism yesterday tore into security at Britain's biggest airport arguing that the authorities had created new targets for extremists.

Threats from mortars, missiles and devices placed in cars near airports were a more realistic danger than on-board bombs, according to Professor Alan Hatcher.

He said the queues up to 300-strong in lines that coil around each other because of well-meaning security practices had themselves become targets.

"A well-placed suitcase containing several kilograms of explosive ... would result in catastrophic fatalities and injuries as well as potentially destroying the infrastructure of the building," Professor Hatcher told the Commons Transport Committee in a written submission.

He said there should be less reliance on hi-tech responses and more support given to security staff. Professor Hatcher, principal of the International School For Security and Explosives Education, said that such workers were often paid "very poorly" and had no career path. Often there was a very high turnover of staff. In his memorandum to the committee, the professor said security and communications were fragmented, staff poorly supervised and trained and there was a perceived lack of "customer relationship skills".

He said there was a strong case for checking baggage before passengers entered terminal buildings as at Changi airport in Singapore. The committee is investigating the response to the 10 August security scare involving an alleged plot to bring down transatlantic airliners.

The professor called for rigorous checking procedures around the perimeter of Heathrow, in particular to counter a potential threat from mortar bombs.

He said cars should be parked away from airports and passengers transported via coaches or trains. He argued that Terminal 3 at Heathrow was a " very easy target" for a simple terrorist attack. "Even a small device would result in large-scale loss of life," he said.

Michael Todd, the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, agreed that security measures were concentrated in controlled zones after passengers had been searched, even though the area of vulnerability at airports was external. "You won't bring down an aircraft, but actually you could disrupt an airport very, very easily through an attack outside or certainly you can attack confidence," he said.