3000 blank British passports hijacked

LONDON - Hijackers made off with boxes of blank British passports worth a fortune on the black market in a raid on a delivery van, police said Tuesday, in the latest blow to the government's record on

3000 blank British passports hijacked

LONDON – Hijackers made off with boxes of blank British passports worth a fortune on the black market in a raid on a delivery van, police said Tuesday, in the latest blow to the government’s record on security.

Detectives said the 24 boxes of about 3,000 passports and visa documents, destined for British embassies around the world, were worth some 2.5 million pounds (five million dollars, 3.2 million euros).

A hijacker sped off with the vehicle Monday when the driver stopped to buy a newspaper in the Manchester suburb of Oldham in northwest England.

The raider jumped in the van and assaulted a second delivery man in the passenger seat before speeding off a short distance to an unmarked road.

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The robber then ran off and when the second delivery man felt safe enough he found that several boxes had been stolen.

“The actual value of the passports themselves is around 2.5 million pounds,” said Detective Chief Inspector Bill McGreavy of Greater Manchester Police, adding he had no significant information to suggest it was a targeted theft.

Detectives were hunting at least two suspects and the van was now being forensically examined for clues, he added.

The passports, which were en-route to Royal Air Force base Northolt in northwest London, were “very secure” as they contained a micro-chip which can be encrypted, he said.

An industry expert said the passports would not be of much use as travel documents but warned that they could be used to create a new identity while forgers could use them as proof of identity for banks.

“From that one document you could literally create your own identity as a foreign national who last month got a British passport,” said Steve Beecroft, a specialist in so-called “smart technology”.

The stolen documents could be sold to people like asylum seekers who want to pass themselves off as British citizens, he said.

The deputy leader of the governing Labour Party, Harriet Harman, filling in while Prime Minister Gordon Brown is on holiday, called it a “serious crime” but rejected claims the government was “sloppy” with sensitive documents.

Dominic Grieve, home affairs spokesman for the main opposition Conservative Party, branded it the “latest in a long line of security disasters to hit the government”.

In December, the government was forced to admit that two data discs containing personal details of some 25 million people were lost in the post.

Top secret files on Al-Qaeda and Iraq were left on a train earlier this year, while hundreds of government laptops and memory sticks have been either lost or stolen in recent years.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office, which was responsible for the delivery, said: “The security vans we use have an array of security features.

“Although we have never used armoured vehicles, which are much less flexible and more expensive than the security vans we currently use, we have used non-armoured security vans for 15 years without incident.”

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