VEILED women will be forced to reveal their identities at UK airports under a government plan to tighten security, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Home Office insiders last night confirmed that immigration officials will be ordered to impose their legal right to lift the veils of passengers after it emerged a suspected police killer may have escaped the UK dressed as a Muslim woman.
But the plan has been attacked by unions, which claim it would impose intolerable demands on their members, particularly female officers who would be the only ones allowed to look under veils.
Ministers have been forced on to the back foot in the past week after it was revealed that asylum seeker Mustaf Jama, wanted for the murder of Pc Sharon Beshenivsky, flew from Heathrow to Somalia using his sister's passport. He is believed to have been wearing a niqab, which has just a slit for eyes.
It subsequently emerged that immigration staff are legally entitled to ask any female passenger to lift her veil to verify her identity against passport photographs. But officers usually wave passengers through because they do not have the time to check everyone.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair yesterday joined the growing calls for change, saying airline passengers must remove any head-dress that covers their face. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has consistently warned of the grave terror threat facing the country, said: "We must find methods of allowing people to take off the veil in a way that's dignified." But a senior Home Office source insisted that existing law gave immigration officers wide-ranging rights. However, the department told Scotland on Sunday last week that it does not hold any centralised records of those checked or refused entry for failing to meet entry requirements.
Home Secretary John Reid is planning to enforce these legal rights before considering any more significant changes.
"Immigration officers can check beneath veils and they do this at every port of entry, every day of the week," the source added. "It is done sensitively and in private.
"Where they don't do it, I suspect it is more often to do with a lack of suspicion than lax procedures or overwork. But we recognise that this sort of thing should be the rule, not the exception." The Immigration Act 1971 requires everyone entering the UK to satisfy an immigration officer as to their nationality and identity. Where there are sensitive or cultural reasons why it is not possible for a person to remove a veil or other garment at the immigration control, they will be taken to a private area where their identity can be verified.
<<Scotland on Sunday -- 12/27/06>>