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Saturday, November 5, 2011

UK border chief axed passport controls: Top civil servant faces sack over decision that left Britain open to terrorists and criminals

-Three senior officials suspended
-Fears hundreds of thousands entered UK without crucial vetting
-Staff told not to bother checking fingerprints against Home Office 'Warnings Index'

By James Slack

Trouble ahead: Brodie Clark, head of the UK Border Force, has been suspended over serious passport blunders

Vital border checks for criminals and terrorists were secretly abandoned over the summer.

In a major new immigration fiasco, three senior officials – including the £135,000-a-year head of the UK Border Force – have been suspended.

There are fears that hundreds of thousands of travellers waltzed into Britain without crucial vetting.

Unknown to ministers, guards were allegedly told not to bother checking biometric chips on passports of citizens from outside the EU to ensure they are not fraudsters.

More worryingly, staff were also instructed not to bother checking their fingerprints or other personal details against the Home Office’s so-called Warnings Index.

This contains the names of terror suspects and illegal immigrants who must be refused entry to the UK to keep the public safe.

The nightmare scenario is that a banned fanatic slipped through the net while the lax regime was in place between July and the start of this month.

It is understood the decisions were taken to keep queues at busy ports and airports to a minimum and avoid complaints by holidaymakers and tourists.

Questions to be asked: Carole Upshall, director of the Border Force South and European Operation, has also been suspended on the orders of Theresa May

The Home Secretary is said to be furious.

Border Force head Brodie Clark was suspended on Thursday after allegedly confirming that he had authorised abandoning specific checks at ports including Heathrow and Calais.

Two more top officials, Graeme Kyle, the director of the UK Border Agency at Heathrow, and Carole Upshall, director of the Border Force South and European Operation, have also been suspended on the orders of Theresa May.

She has ordered an investigation by David Wood, a former Met Police officer, to establish the scale of the scandal.

A second probe will take place into the role and activity of UKBA officials working for Mr Clark – who was once placed on gardening leave by a previous home secretary, John Reid, in an unrelated scandal concerning foreign criminals.

A senior source said criminal charges could be brought against anyone found to have put Britain’s borders at risk.

Mistake: Clark was suspended on Thursday after he abandoned checks at ports including Heathrow and Calais

The revelations come after MPs revealed how the UK Border Agency – dubbed ‘not fit for purpose by Dr Reid – had ‘lost track’ of 124,000 asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

The latest row centres on the range of checks which UKBA officials are supposed to conduct against travellers as they arrive in the UK.

These checks are a mixture of regular measures applied to all passengers, plus additional ‘risk-based measures’ applied on the discretion of UKBA officers.

The regular measures include checking the passenger’s passport and biometric chip. This establishes if the picture inside the passport is the same as that electronically stored by the Home Office.

It is considered vital to avoid fraud and illegal immigration, and biometric chips are now fitted as standard.

In addition, passports are also checked against the Warnings Index, which contains the names of excluded foreign nationals and individuals of concern.

For non-EU ‘visa nationals’, other measures such as the verification of fingerprints are mandatory. Further risk-based measures include secondary interviews.

In July, ministers gave approval to pilot a system that would allow officials to apply a ‘risk-based approach’ to a limited number of passenger checks.

Officials say this meant that in limited circumstances EU nationals would have their biometric chip checked upon the discretion of a UKBA official instead of automatically.

In addition, EU-national children travelling with their families or in school groups would, in limited circumstances, be run against the Warnings Index upon the discretion of a UKBA official instead of automatically.

Ministers insisted all other passengers would continue to have their passport and biometric chip checked and would be checked against the Warnings Index

Easy entry: Heathrow passport control - the border agency has lost track of 124,000 asylum seekers

Shameful: Passport checks were also not carried out as effectively as they should have been at Calais

But instead, Mr Clark is alleged to have authorised UKBA officials to abandon biometric checks on non-EU nationals, the verification of the fingerprints of non-EU nationals, and Warnings Index checks.

Officials have been instructed to refuse any offer of resignation made by

Mr Clark, which would trigger a discretionary payment to him. Instead, he is likely to be fired if allegations of wrongdoing are proved.

Asked about his suspension last night, Mr Clark said: ‘Who told you that?’ He declined to comment further.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Head of UKBA Border Force Brodie Clark has been suspended.’



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