Customs officers at London’s Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, were told not to search anyone with suspicious concealment, apparently making reference to potential drug smugglers over Christmas.
An email which emanated from the Agency on December 23 told customs employees at the airport they should ‘not actively seek to identify any passenger with internal concealments’ due to staff shortages.
The source of the note has been denied by the Agency while it has now tendered apologies for any misconception it has carried publicly.
The note on the internet would have allowed mules carrying Class A substances to the UK stroll through the west London airport unhindered.
The email issued by the UKBA and seen by the Sun reads: ‘We would seek your co-operation in managing this situation by asking that you do not actively seek to identify any passenger with internal concealments for three days up to and including Christmas Day.’
The email also warned officers that they could be handed a 24-hour shift if any suspected smugglers were arrested at the airport, which routinely handles around 70 million passengers per year.
The UKBA has insisted that the email – which came after 90 per cent of flights resumed at Heathrow following days of winter weather chaos – was not representative of the agency’s stance on drug smuggling.
Jonathan Sedgwick, the UKBA’s deputy chief executive, said: ‘This email should never have been sent as this approach does not represent UKBA policy.
‘Our aim is to prevent and detect the smuggling of drugs however people try to bring it into the country.’
He added: ‘Our drug enforcement teams have worked tirelessly over the Christmas period and have successfully intercepted several shipments of class A drugs.
‘We need to review what has happened here to ensure that this situation does not arise in the future.’
The security risk at Heathrow comes just three weeks after the UKBA uncovered potential flaws in Manchester Airport’s immigration safeguards.
The agency found two areas at the north-west hub where travellers arriving in the UK from overseas could walk out of the airport without passing through customs and immigration checks.
The weaknesses were found during an inspection in May but only publicised at the start of December when the UKBA revealed the security gaps had been brought to the attention of the Home Secretary.
However, the flaws were later removed from the airport risk register to be placed on a regional risk register where they were ignored.
But in an embarrassing development for the UKBA, it emerged some agency staff had known about the ‘potential risk to the border’ at Manchester airport for some time