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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 June 2005, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Do newspaper security stunts work?
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News

Sun front page showing bomber
Watch out for an ice cream tub with modelling clay and an alarm clock

The Sun's infiltration of Sandhurst military academy is the latest in a long line of tabloid stunts. But do they improve security?

Those who regularly read a red-top newspaper might be forgiven for asking if there is really anything left to infiltrate.

For the Sun newspaper, the weapon of choice is an ice cream tub holding modelling clay, a battery, an alarm clock and a profusion of wires.

As well as making a visit to Sandhurst, the fake bomb was also taken into the House of Commons by reporter Anthony France, as he masqueraded as a waiter.

And shortly before the wedding of Charles and Camilla, the Sun was able to drive a van carrying a brown box marked "bomb" into Windsor Castle. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said he was "concerned and irritated" over the incident.

The breach of security at Windsor was one of many.

They do reveal the kind of loopholes in security that ought to be tested by the organisations
Roy Ramm
Former Met commander

Most notably, comedian Aaron Barschak managed to gatecrash Prince William's 21st birthday party dressed as a female Osama Bin Laden.

A conman who posed as a police officer and two Eton schoolboys are among those to have breached its defences in recent years.

And the perpetrator of perhaps the greatest newspaper infiltration, Ryan Parry of the Daily Mirror, said security there was particularly weak.

Parry posed as a footman using false references and while inside had close access to the Queen.

But more than the threat to security, the public was most fascinated by the insight into Royal breakfast - cereal out of plastic containers; drink - gin and Dubonnet; and television - EastEnders, The Bill and videos of racing.

Aaron Barschak
Aaron Barschak's breach prompted an investigation

Former Met police commander and security expert Roy Ramm said stunts exposed lapses of security that should have been discovered earlier.

"It is tempting to be ultracynical and say they don't and they are just about selling newspapers.

"But you can't ignore the fact that they do reveal the kind of loopholes in security that ought to be tested by the organisations.

"Penetration testing is something commercial companies undertake as a matter of routine. People are paid to try and break in or penetrate security systems and copy files."

He said it was surprising that security was not watertight after the Sun's stunt at Windsor in April.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about newspaper stunts is the praise they often draw from politicians.

When the Sun got into the House of Commons, Cabinet minister Peter Hain said: "The Sun has done the House a favour by exposing the amateurish and old-fashioned culture which threatened the very cockpit of our democracy."

There is no such thing as 100% security
David Ben-Aryeah
Intelligence writer

And when News of the World reporter David McGee managed to get a job as a prison guard, gain access to Soham killer Ian Huntley at Woodhill Prison and take pictures, the wake-up call was welcomed.

Then Home Secretary David Blunkett said: "Although the report was uncomfortable reading, it enabled the prison service to improve their recruitment procedures and protect the public better."

But this did not stop Mr McGee being charged with smuggling a camera into prison, although this was later dismissed.

Air scares

After 11 September it seemed like every journalist who owned a meat cleaver or a replica gun was busy trying to smuggle it through the scanners at a British airport.

Soon afterwards a journalist and photographer sparked a security alert at Stansted Airport in Essex after they said they were able to get into a Go airliner without clearance.

In January 2002, two People journalists said they carried knives and a small cleaver on to the aircraft.

In September of the same year, journalists from the same paper repeated the trick.

The same month, a replica 9mm semi-automatic pistol was apparently taken aboard a flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh in the holdall of a Meridian Television reporter.

As recently as September 2004, a BBC journalist managed to get a job working as an aviation security officer and board planes that were supposed to be sealed.

Intelligence writer and air security expert David Ben-Aryeah said security lapses happened everywhere, even where cordons are incredibly tight as with Israeli airline El Al.

"There is no such thing as 100% security. Threat assessment in this day and age is a nightmare, not just America but the world lost its naivete on 9/11."

Mr Ben-Aryeah said it was quite possible that, as well as being surrounded by cadets, Prince Harry had special branch guards or other bodyguards nearby.

So, with interest in security at airports and in the Royal Family a perennial issue, journalists' stunts look set to continue.

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