Three arrested over Gatwick security scare

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The Independent Online

Three people were being questioned today, following a full-scale security alert at Gatwick Airport, police said.

The scare was sparked by a car with its number plates removed, which was found abandoned on the A23 near the south terminal at 8.50pm yesterday.

Part of the terminal was evacuated and more than 4,000 arriving passengers were prevented from leaving, police said.

Army bomb disposal experts carried out three controlled explosions before declaring the scene safe after five hours.

No suspicious device was found and the saloon car was removed for forensic examination.

Early today, three people were arrested on suspicion of placing an article with intent contrary to Section 51 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, police said.

They were being held at Crawley police station where they were being questioned. Police said inquiries were continuing.

John Dunkling, Sussex Police's chief inspector of operations at Gatwick, said: "The location of the vehicle and the situation that we found it in just gave rise to some suspicion about why it should be there.

"Whilst we regret the inconvenience to passengers, we were simply not prepared to take the risk of public safety."

He added: "Many passengers had young children with them. Despite this, co-operation we received was first class."

A Gatwick Airport spokeswoman said the south terminal had remained open with no disruption to flights. The north terminal was unaffected.

The A23 and nearby perimeter roads were closed during the operation.

An airport spokeswoman advised passengers to leave extra time for their journey last night.

Gatwick Express services were suspended last night, a spokesman for British Transport Police confirmed.

However, rail services later resumed, although no trains were stopping at Gatwick yesterday, police said.

Following the controlled explosions, officers carried out a precautionary sweep of the tunnel underneath the south terminal as the alert drew to a close in the early hours of this morning.

In March this year, a Portuguese national was arrested after two home-made bombs were found at a flat in Crawley, West Sussex, near Gatwick Airport.

Jose Ivo Pestana, 40, of Langley Green, Crawley, was accused of unlawfully and maliciously having an explosive substance, butane gas cylinders and pyrotechnic powder, with intent to endanger life.

Police said Pestana had "no links to terrorism".

In February a man was stopped by Customs officers after a hand grenade was allegedly found in his luggage as he arrived on a flight at Gatwick airport.

Hasil Mohammed Rahaham-Alan, a 37-year-old Venezuelan, was charged with possessing an article for the purpose of committing a terrorist act, possessing an explosive substance with intent to endanger life or damage property and carrying a dangerous article on an aircraft.

Also in February, a specific terrorist threat sparked a massive high-profile security operation at London's Heathrow airport with the dramatic deployment of light tanks.

More than 400 soldiers and around 1,700 extra police officers were drafted in to the airport and other key London locations in February.

It was believed the terrorist threat included the possibility that al'Qaeda terrorists could attempt to shoot down a plane with a shoulder-held rocket launcher.