18 March 2003

Reporter is held after taking 'guns' on to plane

By Cahal Milmo

A newspaper reporter who smuggled a replica assault rifle and pistol on an aircraft to highlight security lapses at Gatwick has been arrested for breaching the safety measures he exposed as flawed. Sussex Police said the journalist from the News of the World had been detained after the tabloid claimed to have exposed seriousness weaknesses in airport searches.

Robert Kellaway, 37, a senior reporter on the Sunday paper was smuggled in the rear of a lorry carrying in-flight meals to a preparation area. Under the headline "We smuggle M16 machine-gun aboard Gatwick jet", the newspaper said its team spent more than an hour on a charter aircraft and walking beside a runway.

A photograph was published showing the reporter in the 200-seat Monarch Airlines plane holding up the replica of the American-made rifle and Colt .45 pistol. There have been several similar operations by tabloid newspapers since the 11 September attacks aimed at showing security flaws.

Mr Kellaway was detained for five hours last week with the 39-year-old driver of the catering lorry, who is from Worthing, West Sussex. Both were released on police bail pending further inquiries. A third man, aged 30, from Reigate in Surrey, was freed.

The reporter and the driver were questioned about four suspected offences, including conspiracy to possess an imitation firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence and possession of a dangerous article in an aerodrome, both of which carry a maximum penalty of seven years' jail.

They were also accused of unauthorised access to an aircraft and a restricted zone under the Aviation Security Act 2001.

The catering worker, who is believed to have tipped off the paper that security was lax, has been sacked. The paper declined to say if it had paid him. Last week, the paper's former editor, Rebekah Wade, admitted to MPs that they had paid police for information in other cases.

A spokeswoman for Rupert Murdoch's News International, which publishes the NoW, said: "He was engaged in a legitimate journalistic exercise proving how easily a terrorist could breach security and smuggle dangerous weapons on an aircraft. This investigation was massively in the public interest.

At this time of heightened terror alerts we are astonished the police and airport authorities should choose to focus on our reporter."

The article, spread across two pages on 9 March, claimed security guards at the airport entrance failed to spot an unlocked security seal on the lorry carrying the reporter. It also said three other jets could have been boarded, including a British Airways Boeing 777.

BAA, the company which owns Gatwick, along with Heathrow and Stansted airports, denied the report to police was an attempt to cover embarrassment at the apparent security lapses. "We would routinely report such a matter," a spokesman said. "It is for the police to make their inquiries."

He said the catering firm was responsible for ensuring its vehicles were secure. Extra checks, including lorry searches, are now being made.

• Security at Heathrow has been tightened by the first trials of two hi-tech systems, BAA said yesterday. A "sniffing" machine which instantly analyses particles from passengers' clothing for explosives as they walk through an archway will be used with an X-ray machine which gives a three-dimensional view of hand luggage, making it easier to spot concealed weapons.