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Heathrow security hole

London, Sept. 5 (Reuters): An investigation into security at London’s Heathrow Airport was launched today after a journalist said he had smuggled an imitation pistol onto a plane in his hand luggage.

Journalist Mike Pearse said he took the dummy semi-automatic 9mm gun on board a BMI British Midland flight to Edinburgh, Scotland, in order to test security at the airport almost a year after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Airport security around the world was significantly stepped up following the attacks when suicide hijackers flew planes into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.

Although only made of thick plastic and gift-wrapped as a present, Pearse’s dummy gun should have been spotted on X-ray machines by security staff, BAA , Britain’s biggest airport operator which is responsible for security, admitted.

The British government’s transport secretary Alistair Darling, who met BAA chief executive Mike Hodgkinson today, said he was extremely concerned about the revelation. “This should never have been allowed to happen,” he said. Hodgkinson told Darling there would be a full inquiry into what happened.

“BAA takes any breach of security seriously and we are investigating the allegations made,” a BAA spokeswoman said. Pearse, a journalist with British broadcaster Meridian Television, told Reuters he had packed the gun in his luggage so that it should easily have been detected.

“I genuinely thought it would be identified and I was fully expecting to be stopped,” he said.

“I took the hold-all onto the flight and walked off the other end to my amazement.”

He said a colleague had also managed to take a 15.2 cm pair of scissors through checks at Gatwick and Southampton airports in southern England.

In February, an operator in charge of a scanning machine at Manchester airport in northern England flunked a security test by allowing guns, fake explosives and bomb-making equipment onto a passenger flight.

Earlier this week, Chris Yates, civil aviation security editor of the authoritative Jane’s magazine, told Reuters airport security around the world was little better than it was on September 11. British Midland said it was “shocked” at the apparent security lapse.

“The airline will be seeking reassurances and a full explanation at the highest level from the airport authorities with regards to security procedures and vigilance,” it said in a statement.

BAA said it had improved measures since September 11, with an extra 700 security staff taken on in recent months.

“We keep our security under constant review and we are actively seeking to improve security processes through new technology, working with government and research agencies,” the spokeswoman said.

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