The Plot to Bring Down Britain’s Planes examines in minute detail an invidious home-grown terrorist plot to blow up airplanes flying out of Heathrow Airport, and reconstructs in candid, gripping detail the inside story of the UK’s largest and most dangerous surveillance operation. Over the past few years, British airport security has been rigorously tightened and increasingly stringent restrictions have been imposed on what we can carry onto airliners. Anyone who travels by plane is well aware of the ban on drinks bottles in hand luggage; but few people know exactly why.

The reason dates back to 2006 when a group of young British men from Walthamstow, East London planned to blow up multiple airliners, departing from Heathrow, simultaneously in mid-flight, with explosives disguised as soft drinks. If successful, it would have potentially killed over 2000 people and crippled the world aviation industry. But unbeknown to the terrorists, MI5 was watching.

Over the summer of 2006, with the investigation spreading from the streets of East London to Al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan, the British authorities faced a nerve-shredding race trying to gather enough evidence to make arrests before the terrorists could launch their devastating attacks. The film reveals for the first time the behind-the-scenes friction between the US and UK authorities and how American intervention forced the hand of their British partners into making premature arrests, which threw the planned operation into jeopardy.

The programme features unprecedented access to members of Counter Terror Command involved in the biggest surveillance operation since the Second World War, who for the first time have given interviews and forensic detail about the planned terror attack, plus members of the British government, including the then Home Secretary Lord Reid, Andy Hayman (Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service 2005 to 2008) and Peter Clarke (National Co-ordinator of Terrorist Investigations, Metropolitan Police Service 2002 to 2008), as well as Michael Chertoff, former US Homeland Security Secretary and General Michael Hayden, ex-CIA Head. This is a comprehensive and riveting account of a race-against-time investigation to stop a major terrorist attack on Britain.

Tonight, 9PM, Channel 4