HL Deb 15 October 1996 vol 574 cc1589-90

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the security arrangements involved in the successful conclusion of the recent incident at Stansted Airport.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, yes. We were very pleased by the successful and peaceful conclusion of the hijacking incident at Stansted Airport on 27th August. All involved in the incident both here and overseas, particularly, the Essex police, played their part very well and the value of contingency planning was proved to be very worth while. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency. There are always new lessons to be learnt and the Government are examining closely the handling of this incident.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I am sure that I speak for many when I congratulate all those concerned on the successful conclusion of the operation. However, do not the Government have one or two concerns about what happened on that day? Is the Minister aware that a radio reporter at the airport broadcast the exact disposition of the security forces around the aircraft—news which presumably could have been received on board the aircraft? Is she also aware of public reports that Stansted was the preferred airport of the authorities for dealing with hijacks, which has presumably made the airport unsuitable for that purpose in the future? Does the Minister recall press reports of the composition and activities of the committee set up by the Government, presumably in secret, to deal with such crises? Will the Government therefore consider a press blackout or at least an understanding that the press will do nothing to prejudice the activities of the security forces in any future crisis.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord raises some very important points. Certainly, the police did not believe their operation compromised by some of the publicity given to the incident. As the noble Lord knows, one of the difficulties was that at the time the aircraft left Cyprus, CNN, a broadcasting organisation over which we have no control, gave details about the fact that it was hijacked and heading for the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Stansted is fairly exposed which meant there could be a great deal of intelligent speculation by people simply looking across the airfield and noting movements to and from the aircraft. All points are considered. If a blackout is deemed necessary it can be implemented. It is possible to have a secure landline to an aircraft but in the case of a hijack it must be properly negotiated with the hijackers.

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