Thursday, 2 November 2017

Heathrow security

[What follows is the text of a letter from Dr Jim Swire that was published in The Daily Telegraph on 31 October 2017:]

You report (October 30) that a memory stick found in a London street contained 76 extensive, unencrypted files relating to core aspects of Heathrow’s security.

There appears to be no evidence of awareness on the airport’s part, nor of the alarm being raised, before the files were found. We cannot know whether the information has fallen into hands bent on mischief, either through ransom or, far worse, terrorism. Given the latter possibility, Heathrow must make major changes to its security procedures. The airport says “we have reviewed all of our security plans and are confident that Heathrow remains secure”. This is highly complacent.

In December 1988, Pan Am 103, on leaving Heathrow, was destroyed by a bomb in the luggage hold over Lockerbie, with the loss of 270 lives. We now know that Heathrow’s airside had been broken into about 16 hours before the plane took off. The broken padlock and breached security door were reported by a night watchman, but his superiors decided that airside staff had simply taken improper routes to get home quickly for Christmas.

No search was made, nor were any flights cancelled. If such precautions had been taken, my daughter and 269 others might still be alive today.


  1. Two further points of interest:-

    1. Some years after the first appeal occurred, the former head of security at Heathrow confessed to journalists that, on the day of the Lockerbie attack, 70,000 (yes, seventy thousand) airside passes were in circulation at Heathrow. The whereabouts of a huge number was simply not known.

    2. The security guard Raymond Manly received deeply aggressive cross examination during the first appeal. And members of Heathrow staff were wheeled in to repeat the same mantra, clearly rehearsed, that the damage to the security door was simply caused by staff taking a shortcut home. It had happened before, so it must have happened again. The logic of this statement was never successfully challenged by the defence, so the judges discounted Manley's evidence.

    1. Are you sure about the "it had happened before" part? I thought they only speculated that that would be a possible explanation.

  2. Geoffrey Myers, security guard. "At least one occasion when a similar door was damaged". "Staff were trying to take a shortcut..." Appeal transcript p 11939.

    Richard Harris, former security manager, Terminal 3. "frequent problems of staff trying to force their ways through security door..." "A convenient shortcut for baggage handlers..." p 11969.

    Similar answers by witnesses Keith Willis and Nicola Milne.

  3. Not the same door though, was it? I'm genuinely unsure as the appeal transcripts are difficult to navigate, but I thought the notion that that particular door had been damaged in that way by shortcuts in the past wasn't substantiated.

  4. Quite serious story. As is common in security leaks there is never evidence of harm actually done, so it can be swept under the carpet.