Dear Mr. Prescott,
I am replying to your letters of 15 and 24 February about aviation security.
In your letter of 15 February you refer to a story which appeared in “Today” newspaper on 15 February, which describes how a journalist gained access to a Pan Am aircraft. The Pan Am compound at Heathrow is not part of the restricted areas at the airport which are covered by the requirement of the United Kingdom aviation security programme. Aircraft which have been taken outside the restricted areas at airports (for whatever reason) are required to be checked before they are brought back into operation. I am assured that these procedures have been properly followed in relation to aircraft serviced in the Pan Am compound at Heathrow. There was no breach of the aviation security programme. There is certainly no need to call an emergency meeting of the National Aviation Security Committee.
Your letter also suggests that the police should be put in charge of aviation security. The Transport Select Committee concluded that it was not something which they should recommend. But a working party was set up to examine how the expertise of the police could be employed to the best effect in aviation security. As Douglas Hurd announced on 2 February, it has been asked to reconvene and consider whether it now wished to add anything to its report in the light of the Lockerbie tragedy. [end p1]
Your letter of 24 February asked questions about the handling of the security bulletin issued by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and received by the Department of Transport on 9 December. Paul Channon referred to this in a statement in the House on 10 January and wrote to you about it on that day. His remarks on “Question Time” on 23 February were consistent with his previous statements. Aviation security measures are based on an assessment of the threat, which is derived from various sources including intelligence. Public statements about these matters cannot be detailed or explicit and I cannot agree to your request for an independent inquiry.
Whether or not the Department of Transport should have required additional security measures at Heathrow in the light of this particular item of information depends on the reliability of the information and the security measures already in place. The information was carefully assessed, in consultation with the United States Government. The assessment then was that it had little credibility. The security measures for flights by United States airlines from this country were already at a higher level than those for most international flights. The Department of Transport considered that further security measures were not justified. The information in the FAA bulletin has been investigated in depth since the Lockerbie disaster and nothing has yet emerged which casts doubt on the assessment made at the time, nor on the Department of Transport's decision.
I was appalled at the Lockerbie disaster and I know that Paul Channon is as concerned as I am that security procedures at our airports are reviewed and improved where necessary, and that he is considering whether to seek legislation to provide additional powers. Unfounded attempts to suggest [end p2] that the information on the FAA bulletin was wrongly assessed are more likely to hinder rather than help the process of improving security to which we are giving high priority. Yours sincerely Margaret Thatcher.