East Midlands Airport bosses 'ignored security lapses'
Management at an airport ignored "an uncomfortable truth" about security practices when it dismissed a member of staff, a tribunal has found.
The security officer was sacked after a prohibited liquid, left in an unopened bag, caused an alert on a flight out of East Midlands Airport in August 2017.
But she successfully showed others had been clearing bags which set off alarms on "glitchy" X-ray machines for years.
The airport said it rejected the tribunal's assessment of its security.
The security officer, named as Mrs K Singh on tribunal papers, was dismissed for gross misconduct but appealed.
The employment tribunal in Nottingham accepted Mrs Singh had made an error in not searching the bag, but found she had been unfairly singled out for following an "unwritten rule" and her appeal was upheld.
Reflecting her basic mistake, it recommended that any compensation awarded be reduced by 35%.
The tribunal heard Mrs Singh, who had been working at the airport for eight years, was on manual search duties when a piece of hand luggage, which had set off an alert on X-ray machines, was passed back to the passenger unsearched.
A query over the luggage was subsequently passed to the aircraft crew, who found a bottle of liquid larger than the 100ml limit. The pilot considered turning back but did not, the tribunal was told.
The tribunal heard operators of X-ray machines would sound an alarm if they spotted a suspicious item.
However it was told some alarms went off randomly and there was an "unwritten rule" - in defiance of standard procedure - that once operators confirmed they had not seen any problems, bags were handed back to passengers unopened.
This claim was backed by an open letter to management from 21 of Mrs Singh's colleagues, who said they followed this practice.
The tribunal criticised East Midlands Airport, in Leicestershire, saying it "beggars belief" this letter was "for all intents and purposes, ignored" during the disciplinary process.
During the hearing, airport management accused the staff of lying about security lapses, a claim the tribunal described as "almost preposterous".
The airport said the original incident had prompted a security review but could not provide details and the tribunal said it suspected that management "did not want to find out an uncomfortable truth" that staff had not been following proper procedures "for years".
In a statement, East Midlands Airport said safety and security were its "highest priority".
"We do not accept the tribunal's assessment of security processes at East Midlands Airport.
"All staff at East Midlands Airport are fully trained in security processes to comply with national regulatory standards, and are required to formally confirm that they understand these processes each time they receive training."