A Royal Gibraltar Police car physically prevented a Royal Air Force transport plane from taking off yesterday, in an unprecedented and sensitive legal row over jurisdiction in a criminal investigation.
Local police officers wanted to question a serving member of the British military who was on the plane and was being flown to the UK as part of an ongoing Ministry of Defence investigation in Britain.
The RGP, which has primacy in any investigation into offences committed in Gibraltar, also wanted to examine computer equipment belonging to the man, according to several sources with knowledge of the case.
The crucial issue for officers here was to establish whether any offences had been committed in Gibraltar.
But when the investigating officers tried to serve a warrant signed by the Chief Justice of Gibraltar, senior MoD personnel refused access, insisting it was a military investigation under UK jurisdiction, the sources told the Chronicle.
By this time the man and the equipment were on the military plane ready to be flown back to the UK.
As the A400 taxied to prepare for take-off, an RGP vehicle positioned itself on the runway to prevent the plane from taking off.
The situation quickly escalated into a tense stand-off that left scores of cross-border commuters stranded at the runway barriers and caused vehicle tailbacks deep into town.
As lawyers and senior officials here and in the UK attempted to resolve the row, hundreds of people had little option but to wait for nearly two hours until the runway barriers were lifted and normal flow was restored. Some commercial flights were also delayed.
The RAF plane finally took off late yesterday evening, but the man and the computer items had been taken off and remained in Gibraltar.
The Chronicle understands the RGP was expecting access to the computer items last night. The man remained in MoD custody pending the outcome of the RGP’s preliminary investigation.
As this edition went to press at 9pm, the RGP had declined to comment on the incident other than to confirm that there had been no arrests.
The Gibraltar Government also declined to comment in any detail on the incident.
“A law enforcement operation being carried out by the Royal Gibraltar Police caused an aircraft to be prevented from taking off and subsequently other aircraft to be delayed in their approach to Gibraltar,” a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place said.
“As a result the runway barrier closed Winston Churchill Avenue for a significant time and resulted in long traffic delays.”
A spokesman for the MoD confirmed the incident but would not be drawn on specific details.
“We can confirm that an incident occurred at the airfield this afternoon that necessitated an unscheduled closure of Winston Churchill Avenue,” the spokesman told the Chronicle.
“Despite this, incoming flights were unaffected but some departures suffered minor delays.”
“The incident occurred as a result of an on-going police investigation, therefore we cannot comment further at this time.”
Photos by Johnny Bugeja and Moses Anahory