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Last Updated: Monday, 9 July 2007, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
UK defends its border procedures
Ron Noble
Interpol chief Ron Noble criticised British immigration procedure

The UK government has defended itself against claims by Interpol's head that it is failing to check visitors against a database of stolen passports.

Ronald K Noble, the police agency's chief, said there was a "clear link between stolen passports and al-Qaeda linked terrorist activity".

Mr Noble told the BBC: "The UK's anti-terrorist effort is in the wrong century."

The Home Office has insisted border officials are aware of the list.

'Dangerous people'

It said any name on the list which was also regarded as a threat by police forces or the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) would be passed to border authorities.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said work was under way to make checks against the stolen passport Interpol database.

Mr Noble said he hoped the UK would be connected to the database - which includes the numbers of 7m stolen passports - "within months".

These priorities seem misplaced
Ronald K Noble

He said in an open letter that only 17 out of Interpol's 186 member countries systematically checked the passport numbers of incoming travellers against the database.

"On the other hand, all countries systematically check our bags to see if we are carrying bottles of water or other liquids," he said.

"These priorities seem misplaced."

He also warned that a British "watch list" had not been passed to Interpol.

"Until this happens, any time another Interpol member country consults our database about any of the individuals on this watch list, Interpol will have to report that they are unknown, meaning that the UK might lose a significant investigative lead," he said.

This also meant "those individuals on the UK terrorist watch list would remain free to plan and carry out more terrorist attacks".

'Tighten this up'

Terrorism expert Professor Michael Cox of the London School of Economics told BBC News 24 that Mr Noble had made "a very worrying statement".

Prof Cox added: "The terrorists are always one step ahead and we are trying to catch up".

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said UK intelligence services preferred to share information with other countries on a bilateral, one-to-one basis, rather than handing data to international organisations like Interpol.

Tory immigration spokesman Damien Green said the government was more concerned with headline-grabbing policy announcements than practical measures such as the Interpol database.

He added: "We are one of the countries that international terrorists want to hit.

"Why are we not at the forefront of this technology?"

In his first House of Commons appearance as Prime Minister on 4 July, Gordon Brown promised the government would expand the worldwide "watch list" of potential terrorists and sign new agreements with countries around the world to ensure a co-ordinated response to the terror threat.

He told Sky News on Sunday that the government was looking at the issue "as a matter of urgency".

He added: "We do now need more information flowing internationally about who are potential terrorists and who are potential suspects.

"I think it is very important that we tighten this up."

10,000 passports go to fraudsters
20 Mar 07 |  UK Politics
Interpol concern over UK borders
01 Dec 04 |  UK Politics

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