Security Scare at LHR!

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[updated:LAST EDITED ON 10-11-02 AT 06:31 PM (GMT)]An alleged people smuggling ring at London's Heathrow airport has been smashed by immigration officers after they made eight arrests.

The gang is suspected of helping asylum seekers gain illegal entry to the United States from the UK by getting them on to planes unhindered, a spokeswoman for the National Crime Squad said.

Officers from the newly formed Immigration Crime Team (ICT) swooped at the airport after a year-long surveillance operation.

Four of those arrested worked at Terminal Three, a man and woman for Virgin Atlantic Airways, and two men for Initial Aviation Security (IAS).

False documents

The other four men, arrested as part of Operation Groundmass, are suspected of helping to provide false documents.

Both Virgin and IAS worked closely with the ICT officers after it became clear an unusual number of attempts to enter the US were being made on Virgin services.

The gang is suspected of providing asylum seekers with boarding cards at the airport and helping them pass through security and on to the plane.

The eight arrested, who are all from west London or Slough, were questioned at a police station in the capital, the spokeswoman added.

'Corrupt activities'

Acting Det Insp Alan Fitzgerald, of ICT, said: "Operation Groundmass began just over a year ago following an investigation into a security company used by some airlines at Heathrow Airport.

"During this investigation we have worked closely with Virgin Atlantic and IAS who have both provided a great deal of support to help uncover these corrupt activities."

Virgin said it will now pass on information gleaned from the operation to other airlines to help enhance security procedures.

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