A VIP welcoming committee including an armed Special Branch officer waited in vain for a Saudi Arabian prince to arrive at a railway station following an elaborate hoax.
The welcome was prepared at Southampton for HRH Prince Abdul Raham, who claimed to be a director of the Saudi Bank, and his personal security officer, Mr P Swayne, who had booked a suite in the Royal Hotel at Winchester.
The hoaxer fooled British Rail but not the hotel management. The 'prince' had made arrangements for security cover from Nightforce Security of Hythe, Kent, but their inquiries also convinced them it was a hoax.
Tony Smith, proprietor of the Royal Hotel, said: 'I wasn't happy when this prince sorted it out with a booking clerk. You expect VIPs like that to speak to the manager or proprietor.' Mr Smith checked with the Bank of England and the Saudi Embassy in London and found neither man existed.
He said: 'They asked for a car to be sent so I took mine. I wasn't going to let these tricksters get away.
'But when I got to the station there was a full welcoming committee. They'd even opened the side door so he didn't have to walk through the ticket hall.
'The station manager was out there with transport police and then an armed Special Branch officer turned up too.'
The fax number used by the hoaxer belonged to a woman in east London whose home had been burgled.
British Rail confirmed it was expecting a member of a foreign royal family who did not turn up, but BR refused to discuss security.