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Commons bomb hoax highlights lapses in agency staff vetting

24 September 2004
Commons bomb hoax highlights lapses in agency staff vetting

The potential security threat posed by agency staff was dramatically highlighted last week when a journalist masquerading as a waiter smuggled a "bomb" into the House of Commons.

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Sun reporter Anthony France faked his references and was given a job as a waiter in the Houses of Commons

Sun reporter Anthony France landed the 11-day job through recruitment agency Berkeley Scott, which failed to check his previous workplaces - both fictitious - or to contact his referees, who were fellow journalists.

The House of Commons catering department declined to comment on the security lapse.

Berkeley Scott blamed the Metropolitan Police for the fact that France had passed the security clearance process.

The agency said France had supplied a passport and driving licence and passed a skills test, satisfying its requirements for competency and an accurate identity and address. The agency would not say why it did not check the referees.

But George Glennie, security specialist at Gauntlet Security, warned businesses not to rely solely on recruitment agencies.

"Recruitment agencies are playing a numbers game," he said. "If companies ask for 10 waiters, they will get 10 waiters as quickly as they want them. Eight may be fine, but the other two could cause chaos and mayhem. Businesses should be doing their own checks."

The British Hospitality Association's chief executive, Bob Cotton, also warned businesses to be on their guard. "Companies using agencies need to make sure they are getting what they paid for," he said. "There is no point paying to have procedures in place if they are not followed."

Hospitality employers were shocked by the security lapse. "It is very much an eye-opener. I would love to say that every member of our staff had been vetted every single time, but perhaps that is not the case," said Mike Smith, managing director at contract caterer BaxterSmith. "A story such as this gives us and everybody the opportunity to re-look at what we are doing."

The security scare further highlights the obligation on companies to ensure staff checks have been properly processed. Claridge's hotel, which was found to be using seven illegal agency staff in 2002, said it had now built up more stringent relationships with a few trusted agencies - and always insisted on seeing the worker's original paperwork itself.

  • Research by hospitality recruitment specialist Indago found that three-quarters of the country's biggest hotel chains were failing to carry out in-depth security checks on potential employees (Caterer, 22 July, page 10).

Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 23 September 2004

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