Trainee guards miss fake bombs in car - then return it to hire firm
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
It was one thing for trainees at the elite military police bodyguard unit to miss two fake bombs hidden in a car's glove box during an exercise.
It was quite another thing that the car was rented from Hertz - and was then returned to the hire firm's Sydney Airport office with the mock improvised explosive devices (IEDs) still in place.
The blunder, outlined in an investigation report obtained under freedom of information, sparked a major bomb scare and a partial shutdown of the domestic airport car park that lasted several hours on July 4. A disciplinary investigation is now under way.
In the end it fell to Hertz cleaners to find the devices nearly a fortnight after the car was returned to the airport.
Although the devices were ''inert'' and ''posed no threat to the safety of the public'', they looked real enough to Hertz staff. The car rental firm called the police ''due to the realistic nature of the two devices'', the report by the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service states.
Bomb disposal experts from the Australian Federal Police spent several hours examining the fake IEDs, a favoured weapon of insurgents in countries such as Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Hertz checked their records and found the car was one of several vehicles hired for six-and-a-half weeks by the Defence Police Training Centre at Holsworthy Barracks.
A no doubt red-faced officer from the training centre arrived at the airport and confirmed the devices were used in exercises for students training to become ''close personal protection operatives'' or CPPOs.
CPPOs are elite bodyguards assigned to protect senior defence personnel and politicians when they travel to dangerous countries, as well as foreign military VIPs visiting Australia.
Lieutenant Commander Robert Dokter, the executive officer of the training centre, told investigators that ''the devices had been hidden inside the vehicle as part of a training activity . . . but they had not been discovered by the CPPO . . . students''.
On top of this, the officer who rented the cars had gone on holiday by the time the students finished the exercise, the report states. ''As a result . . . the devices were inadvertently left in the vehicle when it was returned to Hertz,'' it states.
Commander Dokter has carried out his own inquiry into the incident to ''ensure no further reoccurrences''. The Defence Command Support Training Centre and the Army Administrative Inquiry Centre are carrying out independent inquiries.
The report stresses that the carpark closure did not cause any delays to flights.
It also concluded that NSW Police ''were not considering any further action in relation to the matter and accepted that the incident arose from an oversight in accounting procedures and not from any criminal intent''.
The Military Police page on the ADF's website states that CPPOs provide security to ''high profile personnel or VIPs who are likely to be terrorist, criminal or military targets due to their grade, assignment, symbolic value, vulnerabilities and/or location''.
Last year, an auditor's report found that Defence had failed to recover three-quarters of the bombs, cartridges and other lethal explosives stolen or lost in recent years despite pressure to account for the explosives.