Israelis star in great St Mary's bomb hoax

13th April 2001 at 01:00
ISRAELI customs officials must have watched too many films featuring the infamous gels from the fictional St Trinian's school.

When a consignment of radio equipment arrived at Tel Aviv airport a 10-day stand-off ensued between zealous officers and staff from a respectable English girls' boarding school.

Officials seized 24 pieces of hi-tech equipment bound for St Mary's, Wantage, because they suspected the the Oxfordshire school of importing bomb-making equipment.

But far from proving to be a ruse which would try the patience of Joyce Grenfell's harassed Sergeant Ruby Gates, the cargo proved to be innocuous. It consisted of 25 mini aerial transmitters ordered to help pupils at the 200-pupil school with their homework.

An explanation was given but suspicions, once aroused, proved hard to dispel. It took a lengthy campaign of explanatry faxes and telephone calls before the zealous officials were placated.

"After 10 days, they accepted we were a girls' school and that although we have overseas students we were not running a sixth-form bomb-making school," said Chris Bullmore, school development director.

He added that the trouble arose because the equipment appeared to be identical to transmitters in remote control systems used to detonate bombs.

The officials, who may have been tipped off, had gone straight to the container for St Mary's, whose old girls include the QC Presily Baxendale and MP Emma Nicholson.

It is not known whether an old report of a St Trinian's-style rumpus at the school (termly boarding fees pound;4,650) had reached officials. In 1994 the then headmistress sent pupils home after stocking-masked girls set off fire alarms and stinkbombs.

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