BUNGLING border agency staff could have caused an explosion at a Yorkshire airport after opening cargo crates containing highly explosive anti-tank ammunition.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) was yesterday made the subject of a Crown Censure over the incident at Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport, and was heavily criticised by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) officials over its handling of the situation.
Revealing details of the incident after a high-level meeting yesterday, the HSE said a flight carrying the ammunition had landed at the airport on November 10, 2009.
The plane was taken to a separate part of the site because of the hazardous cargo and UKBA staff were warned by the pilot not to unpack the crates.
Despite the warning, they opened the crates and partially removed some of the explosive devices from their protective packaging while 10 people were there.
This entailed removing three separate layers of packaging, including opening the protective tubing and exposing live rounds of anti-tank ammunition. There were five crates, each containing five rounds.
The HSE investigation found that UKBA had failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment to enable them to complete the checks safely.
Officials said there was a significant risk that the ammunition could have detonated if it had been dropped, which could have detonated the whole cargo.
As a result, members of the public, airport workers and nearby aircraft were all put at risk on that day.
Paul Darling, UKBA’s corporate director, resources and organisational development, attended the Crown Censure meeting yesterday at HSE offices in Sheffield and accepted the findings on behalf of UKBA.
By accepting the censure, UKBA has formally acknowledged there were health and safety failings.
UKBA cannot face prosecution from the HSE in the same way as non-Government bodies. Crown Censures are agreed procedures applicable to crown employers in lieu of HSE criminal proceedings.
David Snowball, the HSE director for northern England, who chaired the Crown Censure meeting, said: “Our investigation into the details of the cargo verification by UKBA staff at Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield airport found that the failings by the agency were serious enough to warrant this course of action.
“The evidence brought to light by the HSE investigation would be sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction of UKBA in civilian courts.
“This Crown Censure is the maximum enforcement action that HSE can take and should serve to illustrate how seriously we take the failings we identified.”