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Saturday, 2 March, 2002, 13:55 GMT
Politicians on alert over mail scare
package
The caller said 16 packages have been sent
Police are trying to trace up to 14 packages containing a dangerous chemical after two were sent to Cherie Blair, and a Scottish politician's assistant.

Ministers and political staff are being put on high alert as police fear they could be at risk of receiving further parcels containing a caustic substance disguised as aromatherapy oil.


I am extremely angry at this quite despicable act

Mike Rumbles MSP

The parcels were recovered after a man claiming to be from the Scottish National Liberation Army (SNLA) made an anonymous phone call to Scotland Yard.

One was sent to Downing Street and the other to the home of a woman who worked at the constituency office of MSP Mike Rumbles in Banchory, Aberdeenshire.

In the past the SNLA has made death threats towards the Royal Family and is thought to be connected to hoax anthrax letters sent to St Andrews University where Prince William is studying.

Police have ruled out culprits such as the Real IRA or international terror groups, but are believed to be considering it could be the work of an individual.

Information included with the packages claim they contain a complimentary sample of eucalyptus oil, to be used as an aromatic skin lotion.

Scars

But analysis has revealed they are filled with sodium hydroxide - a caustic substance which could cause serious injury and blindness.

Directions for use inside the packages have been described by Scotland Yard as "cynically dangerous".

The Metropolitan Police received the anonymous warning call at about 1400 GMT on Friday.

The caller claimed that up to 16 packages had been distributed, but police say they still do not know who the intended targets are.

Note from one package
The contents were disguised as samples of an aromatherapy product
They are urging anyone who receives a package containing a liquid substance in suspicious circumstances to contact 999 immediately.

Police have confirmed one of the packages was sent from the Glasgow Mail Centre.

A police spokesman said if the other packages exist, they are expected to arrive at their destinations on Saturday.

No danger

The Scottish National Party has condemned the packages as "pathetic".

Party leader John Swinney said: "These people have no interest in Scotland or the welfare of the Scottish people. They are not nationalists, they are criminals plain and simple."

Mr Rumbles, who was born and educated in England, said: "I am extremely angry at this quite despicable act.

"The police are on to it and I hope they get the perpetrators as quickly as possible."
Mrs Blair on tour in Australia
Cherie Blair was away when the package arrived

Screening procedures at 10 Downing Street have been stepped up since 11 September and a government source said nobody there was put in danger by the package.

Tony Blair is currently in Australia where he is attending a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government.

Anti-terrorist officers are investigating and further tests on the contents of the packages are continuing.

'Nasty'

An expert on international terrorism from St Andrews University, Professor Paul Wilkinson, said police believe this to be the work of an individual rather than a large terrorist organisation.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is a particularly cowardly and nasty tactic because undoubtedly it can inflict injury, it can cause scarring and very serious burns and could cause blindness if rubbed into the eyes.

"I think we're not really dealing with terrorism as we would normally understand it, but it's a very nasty tactic and it's very important that the public and the police try and pool information to try and trace those responsible for it."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's June Kelly
"The package was picked up by a screening system"
The BBC's Christine Stewart
"The public do have to be alert"
See also:

02 Mar 02 | Scotland
Swinney condemns mail scare
17 Oct 01 | Scotland
Letter threats were 'cruel hoax'
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