Belfast Telegraph

Disabled man not allowed on Belfast flight gets apology from airport - wheelchair repair kit 'was security risk'

By Mark Edwards

Belfast International Airport has apologised to a disabled man after he was not allowed to get on a flight because his wheelchair repair kit was deemed a security risk.

Steve Smithers, 48, was travelling from Belfast to Gatwick to visit his elderly father who has cancer on Saturday.

However, he was prevented from going through security because of a spanner kit he travels with to repair his wheelchair.

Mr Smithers said: "When I booked this trip, all I wanted to do was to get to see my seriously ill father. I have travelled extensively over the 11 years I have been paralysed and there have never been any problems which have prevented me from doing so independently.  

"I have of course been asked about my wheelchair equipment by security elsewhere but when I explained why I need to carry them, there has been no issue.

"This was in stark, and shocking contrast to the attitude of the security at Belfast International Airport where no distinction was made between my wheelchair tools and work tools, I was not given the opportunity to explain why I needed them nor were any alternative solutions made available to me, for example giving the spanners to the cabin crew.  

"This meant I had no choice but to reluctantly abandon the trip as it became unsafe and infeasible for me complete the journey."

Mr Smithers claimed he was told by security staff that the spanners would be a security risk because they could be used to "dismantle the plane".

He was also told by security staff that it was too late to check his spanners into the hold of the plane.

PANews BT_P-49bb844b-fac5-4539-95f4-5aad30270767_I1.jpg
Belfast International Airport

Mr Smithers, from Killinchy but originally from Essex, is paralysed from the chest down after suffering a broken back in June 2007 after being hit by a driver while on a motorcycle in England.

He had been on his way to see his father in Essex and had arranged to hire a car at Gatwick to continue his journey once he landed. He also uses the tools to add hand controls to the steering wheel of the car to enable him to drive independently.

He said: "For disabled people it is not about asking for special treatment, but simply wanting the opportunity to live life as unimpaired by our disabilities as is possible, and to be allowed to do so with dignity. 

"On this occasion, it was particularly pertinent for me as this was the last opportunity I would have to see my father before he starts chemotherapy but no disabled person should have to experience this, regardless of the circumstances for their trip.  

"It is also concerning that if I, as a confident wheelie of eleven years' experience, have been caused this much distress and suffered such a blow to my confidence, you can only imagine that for someone travelling in a chair for the first time, this could be enough to put them off travelling for life. " 

Lisa Clydesdale, Mr Smithers' partner, told the Belfast Telegraph he was devastated by the experience.

"The reason for his trip was to visit his elderly father who has cancer," she said.

"He is devastated that he has not got over to see him. The trip is incredibly important and Steve has been humilated."

Spanners.jpg
Mr Smithers' wheelchair repair kit.

A spokesperson for the airport said: "Belfast International Airport acknowledges that Mr. Smithers had a distressing experience at the Airport Security Search Point on Saturday. We have spoken to him and his partner, Lisa, and apologised on behalf of the Airport for the manner in which he was treated.

"We offered alternative travel and transfer arrangements but instead, the couple have requested that the Airport make a donation to a nominated local charity, which we will be doing this week.

"As the treatment experienced by Mr Smithers during this process fell well below standards expected from security personnel, in order to remedy this, the airport will be immediately reviewing customer service and escalation procedures with our security provider ICTS."

Both EasyJet and the car hire company have refunded Mr Smithers in full.

Department for Transport rules state that "sharp items and tools cannot be carried in hand luggage at all."

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