Report highlights flaws in British airport security

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Passengers arriving from abroad to one of Britain's largest airports could walk out without passing any checkpoints, an inspection report said Wednesday, warning it was a risk to border security.

The threat at Manchester Airport, the largest airport outside London, was considered serious enough for the home secretary to have been alerted, said John Vine, the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency.

He said that unreliable technology, including facial recognition gates, also posed a potential risk to border security at the time of his visit to the airport in May this year.

Manchester Airport handles more than 20 million passenger movements each year, the vast majority of them involving international travel.

"We observed that there were two areas in the airport where there was the potential for international passengers transferring between terminals to be able to walk out of the airport without passing through primary control points," Vine said in his report.

In an accompanying statement, he added: "A high level of security is paramount at any airport so I was concerned to find that the UK Border Agency had known about a potential risk to the border for some time.

"At the time of inspection, no contingency plans had been put in place to deal with this risk. I would urge that this be addressed as a matter of priority."

Airport security has been a highly sensitive issue since the September 11, 2001 attacks, when a number of planes were hijacked and flown into buildings in the United States.

Despite a global tightening of the rules, would-be bombers continue to get through, most recently on December 25 last year when a Nigerian allegedly tried to blow up a US airliner over Detroit using explosives hidden in his underwear.

In a statement, the UK Border Agency's director for northern England, Steve Brassington, said the organisation was "determined to secure the border to prevent the entry of those individuals and goods harmful to the UK".

"We accept the majority of the recommendations made by the inspector within the reports and the necessary changes have been or are being implemented," he added.

© 2010 AFP

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