Council keys to city centre barriers cloned in 'disturbing' security breach

A road closure barrier in George Street, St Albans city centre

They keys to barriers which prevent traffic from entering the pedestrianised St Albans city centre were copied and leaked, the council believes, leading to more than 20 incidents in which they were opened in mysterious circumstances - Credit: Matt Adams

St Albans Council has launched an investigation into a suspected security breach, which saw two cars drive into a busy, pedestrianised area.

Civil servants believe unauthorised keys, which unlock security barriers keeping vehicles out of the city centre, have been copied and passed around.

In an email to a councillor, the council's lead officer for commercial and development, Tony Marmo, said the gates were unlocked and opened in mysterious circumstances more than 20 times in October.

He admitted the suspected breach just as St Albans was preparing to mark Remembrance Sunday and the 30th anniversary of a terror attack.

On November 15, 1991, two IRA terrorists were killed in St Albans when a bomb they planned to plant at a military musical performance in St Peter’s Street detonated earlier than planned.

“This is very disturbing news,” Conservative leader Mary Maynard said of the breach.

“This is deplorable and it could end in disaster. If the barriers aren’t closed, cars could just drive through at 40mph. Somebody could die.

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“The council needs to investigate this immediately, find out who had the keys and take control of the situation.”

Discovery

Mr Marmo alerted scrutiny chair Annie Brewster to the suspected security breach on November 3, writing in an email: “It is believed that a number of unauthorised keys are in circulation.”

The locks have since been changed in an effort to combat the problem and the council is investigating how the keys could have been cloned and leaked.

The suspected breach was revealed after a resident contacted Cllr Brewster to raise concerns about the safety of road closures imposed in the city centre last year to enable social distancing.

Local councillors have since asked County Hall to keep the roads closed in order to facilitate markets and al fresco dining.

The resident contacted Cllr Brewster to report that they and another motorist had been able to unwittingly drive their cars into the middle of the crowded city centre, forcing them to continue through the crowds until they could find a way out.

Cllr Brewster forwarded the resident’s complaint on to council officers, to ask how this could have happened.

It is now believed that the drivers were able to enter the area because an unknown person had unlocked and opened the barriers.

It was one of 21 occasions in October alone when the barriers were unlocked by persons unknown.

Conservative chair of scrutiny Annie Brewster

The security breach was disclosed to scrutiny chair Annie Brewster after a concerned resident contacted her to report an incident - Credit: Danny Loo

Investigation

“There have been reports of unauthorised openings of city centre barriers, which we are investigating,” Mr Marmo confirmed to the Herts Ad.

“We take such reports very seriously as the barriers ensure the safety of people in city centre areas that are currently pedestrianised.”

Herts County Council and St Albans District each gave conflicting information as to who was allowed to hold keys to the barriers.

Mr Marmo told Cllr Brewster that keys had been issued to the St Albans Council parking team, the Veolia waste collection team, and the Business Improvement District (BID), which holds markets in the city centre.

No evidence has been found that anybody in any of those organisations was responsible for making or circulating copycat keys.

Hertfordshire County Council told the Herts Ad that only the county council, district council and emergency services were authorised to hold keys - not Veolia or the BID.

County Hall has supplied combination locks to replace the new key locks.

Once they come into use, Mr Marmo confirmed, access to the codes would be “restricted to the emergency services along with our car parking team”.

However, the combination locks cannot be used until it is decided how Veolia and the BID will gain access to the city centre once they are in place.

“St Albans BID would not expect to receive the combination codes from Herts County Council, as the BID are not the appointed agent,” said BID chair Alison Berneye.

She said the BID “works closely with St Albans District Council officials to facilitate the opening and closing of the gates for BID events and to support businesses.”

Veolia did not respond to a request for comment.

Anthony Rowlands, lead Lib Dem councillor for public realm, said he would look into the matter and make a public comment in the coming days.

For more, read:

St Albans city centre road closures causing chaos for confused motorists

St Albans road closures decision 'must be unanimous', says highways chief

City centre road closures are blocking ambulances, meeting hears

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