UK Airport Guards Told to Not Check for Drugs, Guns When Lines Are Long

UK Border Force guards at Manchester and Heathrow airports have been told to "deprioritise" checks for contraband if they would cause long queues.

Emails leaked to a daily newspaper reveal customs staff were told to only routinely search passengers for illegal items like narcotics and weapons if "there is no likelihood of an excessive queue time."

Anonymous sources said that would mean that, during busy periods, checks would only be made on passengers singled out in 'Category A' orders, based on intelligence from the National Border Targeting Centre.

Officers at London Heathrow, the UK's biggest airport, said they were told not to make checks "proactively" during the school half-term holiday week in February.

The email, sent by a Border Force assistant director on February 9, confirmed "the steps we need to take to stabilise the PCP [primary control point] excessive wait times and to make the best use of the resources we have available to secure the border."

He said all trained staff should man the PCPs at airport security when needed to prevent "excessive queues" from forming.

"Customs work is deprioritised and will only be carried out when you are satisfied there is no likelihood of an excessive queue time or in the event of a cat A target," he added.

The reported aim of the policy is to avoid a repeat of the huge queues seen during last year's summer holidays after COVID-19 restrictions were eased. The ensuing chaos was solved by redeploying staff from less busy ports to major hubs.

But a report on the Border Force by former Australian cabinet minister and high commissioner Alexander Downer stressed the problems with that approach.

"Border Force send staff from all over the UK to manage shortages at Heathrow and ports in the south-east of the country, taking staff away from their home ports, reducing resilience at those ports and the ability to perform discretionary but important work that the public expect from Border Force such as customs checks in passenger channels at airports," Downer wrote.

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