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Probe into lost anti-terror plans

A police patrol during a terrorism alert at at London's Heathrow airport
London Heathrow Airport
Acts of terror
Great Britain

LONDON, England -- British police have launched an inquiry into how a secret police dossier went missing that contained, according to reports, counterterrorism plans for London Heathrow airport.

Home Secretary David Blunkett described the disappearance of the dossier as "very bad."

Blunkett said that as far as he knew, the papers -- which were found close to the airport's perimeter fence by a motorist and handed to a newspaper -- were genuine.

They reportedly showed 62 sites at the airport where al Qaeda was most likely to launch anti-aircraft missile strikes and included key facts about escape routes, evacuation plans and road closures.

Blunkett told BBC radio: "The plans were obviously very good. Somebody disposing of them in a way that allowed that to happen is very bad.

"The commissioner (of the Metropolitan Police, John Stevens) will be reporting on the investigation as to how that happened."

The Sun newspaper said the dossier included facts about surveillance, escape routes, evacuation plans and deployment of rooftop snipers at the world's busiest international hub.

The plans, which have since been returned to police, were found by a motorist, the newspaper said.

A police spokeswoman could give no details about what the dossier contained or where it was found, but confirmed it had been returned to police.

"We treat any breach of security extremely seriously," the spokeswoman told Reuters.

"We have launched an internal inquiry into the circumstances of how these documents went missing and will take the appropriate action when we have ascertained the facts surrounding this matter," the spokeswoman said.

She could not confirm whether the dossier was compiled by the SO18 anti-terrorist Aviation Security team, which is based at Heathrow police station.

According to The Sun, the papers contained detailed maps and photographs, including aerial and satellite shots.

In one section, the dossier identified a field close to the airport as being ideal for a terrorist attack.

"This site affords an excellent site to attack aircraft departing Heathrow," the Sun quoted from the dossier, saying it included aerial and satellite photographs of the site.

Dated June 26, 2004, the dossier gave surveillance and assessment information valid until December, the newspaper said.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears accepted that people would be worried and pledged to look at what action could be taken. ('Stock up on food')

She told Sky News: "I want to see the result of the investigation. I want to see what steps can be put in place to make sure documents of this nature are as secure as they possibly can be."

Blunkett: Said he was treating the report as genuine

John Stewart, who leads a pressure group for people living under Heathrow's flight path, told the UK's Press Association that residents would be "very concerned" at the disappearance of the papers.

Stewart told BBC radio: "Our members under the flight path are on the front line if there is any security threat, and over the last three or four years security issues are concerning our members more and more. They will be very concerned about this breach of security.

"The areas around Heathrow are under threat if there is a terrorist attack.

"Heathrow is in the most built-up area of any airport in Europe. If there's a terrorist attack that was successful, it wouldn't only take out planes, it would take out hundreds or thousands of homes. Maybe tens of thousands of people would be made homeless and worse."

Stewart added it "beggared belief" that the documents could have been dumped at the roadside by chance.

Ten years ago, the Irish Republican Army targeted Heathrow airport with rocket attacks. None of the missiles packed with Semtex plastic explosive detonated.

Security chiefs sent tanks into Heathrow last year after intelligence pointed to a threatened missile attack.

This year, flights to the United States have been cancelled amid fears of an al Qaeda attack.

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