TWO baggage security guards at Birmingham International Airport have been sacked - for getting drunk and falling asleep on the job.
The workers were found flat-out in a rest room in Terminal One in the early hours of the morning. Colleagues searching for the pair for a planned security briefing were astonished to find them clearly the worse for wear.
Both men work for private security firm ICTS (UK) Ltd, which has held the contract to carry out baggage X-ray screening and security checks 'airside' at the airport for 10 years.
"The men had been working since 7pm and were found in the rest room between 3am and 4am," said a source. "They still had to work on until 6am.
"There are no flights at the airport after about 10pm and before 4am - but the men still had work to do.
"It's strictly forbidden to drink on the job and staff aren't allowed to leave the premises at any stage."
The two men were suspended the day after the incident in early December, and formally dismissed last week.
Dismayed airport insiders said the incident was the latest security lapse at Birmingham International Airport at a time when terrorists could be planning further attacks on Britain.
A senior airport worker said: "These security people look inside people's bags for bombs, firearms and other dangerous items.
"How can they possibly do that if they're under the influence of alcohol?"
It is not the first time that ICTS employees have sparked security fears.
In May 2003, the Sunday Mercury spoke to two security guards who claimed that some suitcases were going unchecked because of staff shortages.
A month later, another ex-employee claimed he had watched workers playing computer games when they should have been checking for bombs.
ICTS refused to comment on the claims at that time. But the latest allegations will fuel fears about security at Birmingham International Airport.
Last year a national newspaper journalist managed to get a job loading jets by supplying two fake references.
A half-hearted attempt was made to check one reference while the other was ignored despite the airport being described in a police terrorism probe as a potential al Qaida target.
The reporter then smuggled materials which could have been the ingredients for a bomb into the airport, hidden behind the toecaps of his boots.
Also last year, a mum used the passport of her bearded, turban-wearing husband at the airport - and was waved through by check-in staff She had mistakenly picked up his passport as she rushed to catch a flight to India.
The mum's error was only discovered as she filled in immigration forms mid-flight and she was held at Amritsar Airport for 27 hours while her explanation was confirmed.
Birmingham International Airport is among the busiest in the world.
More than a million people travelled through its two terminals in July - an increase of 7.8 per cent compared with the same period in 2004. Passenger numbers are forecast to reach 12 million a year by 2010.
Airport management refused to discuss the latest ICTS claims or confirm whether security was being reviewed as a result.
A spokeswoman said: "Procedures exist, across airlines and airport staff, to ensure that all staff are fit for duty.
"The incident in question proves the point' the staff were detected before accessing a secure airside area, and dealt with through established disciplinary procedures.
"The airport and its partners onsite place the highest priority on ensuring that employees on duty are professional at all times.
"Breaches of procedure are not tolerated and the response to the incident in question demonstrates this point."
ICTS company secretary Ben Lewis said: "We never comment on security matters."
All three worked for private security firm ICTS, which has held the contract to carry out X-ray screening and security checks 'airside' at the busy airport for 10 years.
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Transportation Security Administration workers noticed a "suspicious image" while screening baggage and contacted airport police.