An Israeli general wanted for alleged war crimes escaped arrest at Heathrow airport in 2005 because British police feared an armed standoff, the BBC reported Tuesday.
Major General (res.) Doron Almog was tipped off about plans to arrest him after he landed in London on September 11, 2005 and refused to get off his plane, staying on board for two hours before returning to Israel.
Palestinian campaigners had lobbied police to arrest him when he traveled to Britain over allegations that he ordered the destruction of more than 50 homes in the Gaza Strip. A British judge had granted an arrest warrant.
The general was traveling to the UK for Jewish social and charitable events, but was tipped off - apparently via the Israeli embassy - about an arrest warrant issued for him before he left the El Al plane on the tarmac at Heathrow.
Police initially decided they were going to detain the general at Heathrow's immigration control, then take him to a police station before deciding whether to formally arrest him, according to a police log obtained by the BBC.
But faced with the general refusing to leave the plane, the officer in charge John MacBrayne - who more recently flew to Pakistan to probe the death of Benazir Bhutto - could not get confirmation that he could board the flight, as El Al had refused permission.
Concerns regarding international impact
Writing in the log, MacBrayne noted with concern the "consideration (was) that El Al flights carried armed air marshals, which raised issues around public safety.
"There was also no intelligence as to whether Mr. Almog would have been traveling with personal security as befitted his status, armed or otherwise," he added.
The police chief also voiced concern about the "international impact of a potentially armed police operation at an airport."
Lawyers representing Almog's alleged victims condemned the police failure to arrest the general.
"Victims of war crimes allegedly committed by Doron Almog have been very badly let down by Metropolitan Police Service failures to keep Mr. Almog from finding out about the arrest warrant before it was executed, and to arrest Mr. Almog when they had the opportunity to board the plane at Heathrow airport.
"These are serious failures which raise concerns about the effectiveness of the police in cases where international criminal suspects come into the country," said lawyers Hickman and Rose.
"They also reveal an extraordinary assumption that armed Israelis might engage British police on British soil as they try to make an arrest under a lawful warrant issued by a British judge."
'Police allowed to board any plane'
Aviation security expert Chris Yates said police are entitled to board planes, whatever nationality the airline. "Any aircraft of any nationality is not sovereign soil," he told BBC radio.
"If the police... feel that a crime has been committed or that they have to execute a warrant for someone's arrest, then they're quite within their rights to board that aircraft with or without the permission of the pilot."
When the general returned to Israel the incident was described as an "outrage" by foreign minister Silvan Shalom. Then British foreign secretary Jack Straw subsequently apologized, the BBC reported.