Asylum seekers 'enter UK in Tony Blair's car'
By John Steele,
Last Updated: 2:51pm BST 27/09/2007
Four asylum seekers trying to sneak into Britain in a container lorry were astonished when they got out of the vehicle and found themselves in a police station yard.
Any notion that they were caught by good police intelligence were soon dispelled, however, when if emerged that, unbeknown to them, the lorry was carrying a new, high-security car destined for the former prime minister, Tony Blair.
The episode on Wednesday has caused much mirth around the Metropolitan Police, and may even raise a smile from the four, who are now in immigration custody claiming asylum.
It has not gone down well, though, with Scotland Yards specialist operations department, which protects Mr Blair and organised the importation of the vehicle – a 100,000, dark grey BMW 7 Series – from Germany.
Mr Blair is regarded as one of al-Qaedas top targets, even in retirement, and is the most heavily and expensively-protected former Prime Minister.
The container was meant to be secure, to protect one of the most important vehicles shipped into Britain.
An inquiry is now underway into how the men got into the lorry – it is believed in northern France – and it is understood the car has been returned to Germany for its security to be checked.
The vehicle – with bullet-proof glass, reinforced doors and a chassis capable of withstanding some bomb blasts, accompanied by a high-power engine – was to be Mr Blair principal means of transport in the UK.
The method of delivery of the car – in an unmarked container among the many thousands of vehicle containers entering the UK every day – reflects the traditionally low-key, stealthy approach to security adopted by Scotland Yard, which does not go in for the cavalcade and fortress tactics used to protect US presidents.
The car, though obviously expensive, would have been designed not to stand out among other luxury vehicles and there would be nothing to draw attention to its security features.
Scotland Yard confirmed that police arrested four men who were inside a car transporter which had just delivered a vehicle to police premises in south west London. They are believed to be from the Indian sub-continent.
They were arrested by police for alleged immigration offences and remain in custody. Police are liaising with the Immigration Service, a spokeswoman said.
Scotland Yard has drawn up a publicly-funded, multi-million-pound security operation around Mr Blair, now a Middle East envoy, transferring the protection he enjoyed as Prime Minister into his private life.
The scale of the security has outstripped that given to Margaret Thatcher, who left office in 1990 at the top of the IRAs hit-list.
The Blair family lives in Paddington, west London, in a re-inforced, high-security house. The personal protection arrangements around Mr Blair involve a number of highly-trained, armed officers from the protection command, formerly special branch, in Scotland Yards specialist operations department.
They work with a small number of specialist drivers trained in escaping assassination or hijack attempts. Sources have suggested it could reach a bill of up to 2 million a year for the Met in salaries, overtime, allowances and expenses. Protection officers tend to work long shifts, involving overtime – in addition to cars and physical security measures.