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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 August, 2004, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Reporter takes fake bomb on plane
Birmingham International Airport
The airport was one of the targets of a foiled terror plot in May
An investigation has begun into how a reporter who claims he smuggled fake bomb equipment onto a holiday jet evaded security checks.

Anthony France, 31, was taken on as a baggage handler at Birmingham Airport by contractor Aviance despite giving bogus references.

The journalist, who was working for the Sun, hid the fake device in his boots on 17 August, the paper said.

The Department for Transport said all security lapses were "taken seriously".

The reporter said the components of the device set off a metal detector but he was waved through after telling staff the alarm had been activated by his steel toecaps.

We are confident that our own stringent security checks would have detected any problems before the plane left the tarmac
Thomas Cook Airlines

After assembling the bomb in one of the Boeing 757's toilets, he was joined by four other baggage handlers in loading a Thomas Cook flight - carrying 270 holidaymakers - bound for Majorca.

He also alleged that he had been left alone in the rear hold and had taken pictures of himself holding his makeshift device.

The 200g fake device, made from plasticine, a timing device, a set of wires and two batteries, was half the size of the Lockerbie bomb, Mr France said.

He added: "Had I been one of Osama Bin Laden's terrorists, I could have wiped out more than 220 British passengers... and thousands more on the ground below."

'Corrective action'

A Department of Transport spokesman said: "We are following with the airport the security issues raised as a matter of urgency."

"Corrective action" would be considered depending on the outcome of the investigation, he told BBC News Online.

He declined to reveal what the action might entail.

Mick Moran, regional manager at Aviance, described the incident as "very embarrassing".

Airport screening looks for prohibited materials, not plasticine or watch pieces
John Morris, head of corporate affairs, Birmingham International Airport

He told BBC News Online Mr France would have been escorted in his work until all references had come back and criminal record checks carried out, which could take up to 10 weeks.

"We had his driving licence and passport before he was issued with an escorted pass and were in the process of making checks.

"Security is paramount to us as a business."

Answering claims the reporter took photographs while left alone in the hold, he said: "It has been alleged Mr France asked one of his colleagues to take pictures of him to send to his mother and that he was not in fact left alone.

"We do not know the truth of this claim and it will form part of our internal investigation."

A Thomas Cook Airlines spokesman said the company was waiting to hear the result of meetings between the airport and the Department for Transport.

'Stringent'

He added: "There were no passengers or crew on board the aircraft at the time of this incident and we are confident that our own stringent security checks would have detected any problems before the plane left the tarmac.

"We have a number of measures in place, which we cannot divulge for security reasons."

Birmingham International Airport is supposed to be on high alert after being named as one of al-Qaeda's UK targets.

John Morris, the airport's head of corporate affairs, said: "Airport screening looks for prohibited materials, not plasticine or watch pieces. Our screening process would have identified any dangerous substances."




SEE ALSO:
Why UK is in al-Qaeda's sights
19 May 04  |  Magazine
Man in court after airport alert
03 May 04  |  West Midlands
Deal 'agreed' in airports dispute
07 Jul 04  |  Business
Police criticised over bomb joke
25 Aug 04  |  Manchester


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