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The BBC's Tom Heap
"Nearly every trucker has encountered stowaways"
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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Scanners 'to detect stowaways'
lorry scanned showing people inside
The new scanners can detect human beings
By transport correspondent Tom Heap

Customs officials are to install new technology at ports, capable of detecting people hiding in lorries entering the country.

In an official statement, Customs and Excise said their only interest was in finding smuggled alcohol and tobacco, but acknowledged the equipment would also be able to detect stowaways.

However one of the companies shortlisted for the contract said it understood from officials that the ability to search for humans was a key requirement.

The news comes as the new Asylum and Immigration Bill takes effect and lorry drivers face fines if illegal immigrants are found in their vehicle.

The British government is now in the final stages of deciding who will supply the equipment. It wants to start operating scanners at some ports within months.

hiding feet highlighted
Feet picked up through the lorry sides by the scanner
One of the shortlisted companies, American Science and Engineering (AS&E), has supplied scanners for the US/Mexican border for the last decade.

Their system works by passing lorries through an x-ray field. Unlike conventional scanners, which simply form an image from x-rays which pass through, this system analyses reflected x-rays too.

The so called "back scatter" technology is crucial for seeing organic material like the human body.

In tests, people hiding in a lorry trailer, behind crates, TV sets and even fake guns show up as ghostly white human images on the operator's screen. Neither the lorries' walls nor the cargo can blind the machine.

And the radiation dose is so low there is no risk to human health.

Scientists from the British government have just spent a few days with AS&E to assess their scanners' capability and safety.
scanner facility
Scanners are in operation on the US/Mexican border
Company President Ralph Sheridan told the BBC that the British authorities had said that catching illegal immigrants was a key issue, alongside detecting smuggled tobacco and weapons.

Customs and Excise will not give complete details of how the scanners are to be used but it is clear there will be one at Harwich to check ships' containers for contraband.

Another will examine lorries at Dover, the point of entry for most illegal immigrants into Britain.

The technology is not fast enough to scan every vehicle - it can only manage 15 to 20 an hour - so trucks or containers will still be chosen at random or from intelligence.

On Monday a system of fines for lorry drivers entering the UK with illegal immigrants in their cargo takes effect.

Truckers can now be fined up to 2,000 for each stowaway found on board and may have their vehicles confiscated.

But many drivers have voiced anger over the scheme saying it is difficult for them to tell if someone is hiding in their vehicle.

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02 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum vouchers spark protests
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