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UK warns world about useless 'bomb detectors'

27 January 10 15:02 GMT

By Caroline Hawley and Meirion Jones
BBC Newsnight

A UK government ban on the export of "magic wand" bomb detectors to Iraq and Afghanistan becomes effective on 27 January, as the BBC reveals further shocking evidence of the shortcomings of these devices.

The restriction is being imposed following a BBC Newsnight investigation which showed that the supposed detectors were incapable of detecting explosives or anything else.

There are concerns that they have failed to stop bomb attacks which have killed hundreds of people.

The British Foreign Office has told the BBC that they will now be urgently warning all governments who may have bought devices such as the ADE651 and GT200 that they are "wholly ineffective" at detecting bombs and explosives.

The ADE651 is made by a company from Somerset called ATSC. The director of the company, Jim McCormick, was arrested at the beginning of this month on suspicion of misrepresentation.

The GT200 is sold by Global Technical in Kent.

Global concerns

Despite advice from the British embassy in Baghdad, the ADE651 is still in use on checkpoints in Iraq, while an investigation ordered by the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues.

In the past three days, 58 people have died there in bombings.

In Pakistan, which is not covered by Britain's export ban, rows have broken out after newspapers highlighted the continued use of similar devices at Jinnah International Airport in Islamabad.

Another country not covered by the UK ban is Thailand, where MPs are calling for the withdrawal of 500 GT200 detectors after a number of deaths were blamed on their failure to find explosives.

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has tried to reassure MPs that the GT200 is not like the ADE651: "We use a different brand," he said.

The devices are also in use in Mexico, Kenya, Lebanon, Jordan and China.

Analysis

The British government has banned the export to Iraq and Afghanistan of all such devices that claim to be powered by static electricity - like the ADE651 and GT200. The UK Department for Business (BIS) said "tests have shown" that they are "not suitable for bomb detection".

Newsnight obtained a GT200 that was sold as a bomb detector and discovered that it was almost identical to the ADE651.

It consists of an aerial on a handle connected to a black box into which you are supposed to insert substance detection cards.

The head of Global Technical, Gary Bolton, told Newsnight:

"There are no electronic parts required in the handle."

Explosives expert Sidney Alford took apart the "black box" of the GT200, which is supposed to receive signals from the detection cards.

He was surprised at what he found.

"Speaking as a professional, I would say that is an empty plastic case," he told us.

Mr Alford also took apart a "detection card" and found there was nothing in it other than card and paper.

Gary Bolton from Global Technical told the BBC that the lack of electronic parts "does not mean it does not operate to the specification".

Alternative uses

The devices have also surfaced in Kenya where comedian and broadcaster Stephen Fry saw them in use by rangers when he was filming for the BBC series, Last Chance to See. Mr Fry told the BBC that he thought it was "cynical, cruel and monstrous" that rangers - who were trying to track down poachers - had been told they could detect ivory at vast distances.

"I was horrified. They had spent a vast sum of money on a modern equivalent of a hazel twig divining rod. There was no possibility that such a thing could work."

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