3,000 passports stolen from van

Reporter: by Janice Barker
Date published: 29 July 2008

MORE than 3,000 British passports and visas worth millions on the black market have been stolen from a van in Chadderton — when the driver popped into a local shop.

The documents, in 24 parcels containing blank passports and blank stickers for visas, were printed at 3M Security Printing and Systems Ltd in Gorse Street, Chadderton. They were being carried in a Citroen Relay van at 6.40am yesterday en route to RAF Northolt in London, intended for British embassies overseas.

But the driver stopped at a local shop, and while he was away two men attacked his passenger, forcing his head between his knees, while they stole the parcels.

The Foreign Office has admitted that the theft is a serious breach of security.

Det Chief Insp Bill McGreavy of Oldham CID said: “The van was driven a few hundred yards away from the shop to Long Lane when the passports were stolen.

“Physical force was used, but neither man needed hospital treatment.

“Greater Manchester Police is investigating the robbery but we are liaising with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

3M Security and Printing Systems Ltd was formerly the HMSO Stationery Office in Chadderton, which was privatised in 2006 and employs around 300 staff.

A spokesman for the firm refused to make any comment today, even refusing to confirm that any passports had been stolen. She added: “We may make a statement later today or it may be tomorrow. At this moment we are not making any comments at all.”

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The van was hijacked en route from the production site.”

She confirmed that they contained “security features” which would make them unusable.

BBC Radio 5 Live said the passports involved were the new electronic type which contain a chip replicating the data printed on the document itself.

A spokeswoman for Greater Manchester Police said: “Shortly before 6.40am on Monday, police were called to Long Lane, Chadderton, following reports of a robbery.

“Officers attended and found boxes containing blank passports had been stolen.

“Inquiries are ongoing.”

An Identity and Passport Service spokesman said: “Our hi–tech security features mean that these passports are unusable.

“The police are doing everything in their power to catch the perpetrators.”

Such sensitive documents are usually transported in armoured, secure vehicles, he added.

Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Phil Woolas, a Government minister, said: “Around £5,000 is the going rate for a forged UK passport. The worrying thing is that they could be used in countries where there are no biometric tests.”

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