Wednesday, May 11, 2005

King’s Chapel incident prompts Security Review

Military and police officials will conduct a review of security measures at King’s Chapel after three men stashed 21 cartons of tobacco in the small church and inadvertently sparked a major security alert yesterday.

The men, who were detained at the border as they tried to cross into Spain, had managed to hide the tobacco despite constant CCTV surveillance inside the chapel.

It was not clear yesterday why they chose to do this. But the hidden stash was not detected even though a member of the public had apparently voiced concerns on Monday after spotting the men acting suspiciously inside the chapel, which is part of the governor’s official residence.

The security breach also came just days after the police had advised businesses in the area to remain vigilant in the run-up to this Saturday’s Ceremony of the Mounting of the Guard, which takes place in front of the Convent.

News of the breach coincided with a bomb scare in the Royal Bank of Scotland just before 2pm yesterday, after a suspect device was spotted at the entrance to the bank’s car park.
Police initially believed that the suspect package, a black bag, was the same one that had been used to hold the tobacco in the chapel, though this ultimately proved to be incorrect.

As the Royal Air Force bomb disposal unit moved in to examine and neutralise the bag outside the bank, officers from the Gibraltar Services Police – including the dog unit - sealed off King’s Chapel as a precautionary measure.

The bomb scare at the bank caused major traffic chaos as police closed off roads to keep the public at a safe distance.
Just before 3pm, the bomb disposal unit carried out a controlled explosion and declared the Royal Bank of Scotland safe shortly thereafter.
The suspect device turned out to be rubbish and the two incidents were apparently unrelated, according to police and military sources.

By 3.20pm, the gates to King’s Chapel had also been re-opened, with no sign inside the church of anything out of the ordinary having occurred.

As those events unfolded, officers of the Royal Gibraltar Police were detaining the three men who had unwittingly set off this chain reaction. The men, who are all British nationals and are not resident in Gibraltar, appear to have hidden the tobacco in the church on Monday and planned to smuggle it across into Spain on Tuesday.

A police spokesman confirmed that they were detained at the border carrying seven cartons each, which is not classed as a commercial quantity. He added that they had been cautioned for conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, namely in relation to the security implications of hiding the tobacco inside King’s Chapel.

But serious questions will now be asked as to how they were able to do this in the first place.

“The Convent, British Forces Gibraltar and the police will be carrying out a review of security in King’s Chapel as a result of this incident,” said Headquarters British Forces in a statement last night.

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