Britain's 'failure to deport foreign criminals' has cost £70m

Arnis Zalkans, prime suspect in Alice Gross murder, was allowed into the country despite having murdered his wife in Latvia

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of foreign criminals who went missing in Britain before they could be deported represent just one of many high-profile failures for the Government’s vaunted £850m prisoner removal programme, a damning report reveals today.

Criminals who disappeared after serving their sentences have included 58 high-risk and potentially dangerous offenders who have eluded both police and a junior team of Home Office officials charged with trying to find them for more than four years.

The system was shown to be dogged by bureaucracy, delays and out-of-date technology, despite the commitment by David Cameron to send home more foreign criminals in British jails to save money and free up prison spaces.

A report by the spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), discloses that there were more foreign inmates in UK prisons in 2014 than there were eight years ago – when Labour’s Home Secretary Charles Clarke was sacked after it emerged that hundreds of foreign prisoners had been freed without considering them for deportation.

Video: Body found in Boston Manor Park is Arnis Zalkans

The report covers failed attempts to prevent serious offenders from coming into the country and delays and missed opportunities to deport them after committing new crimes and serving jail terms. It said that one in six of the 4,200 foreign offenders living in the community – amounting to 760 foreign criminals – had been missing since 2010.

Any foreign offender can be turned away from Britain if they have served a sentence in their homeland of more than four years. But the report said dangerous criminals have evaded border staff on their way into the country because of an antiquated “watchlist” system that has not been upgraded. Britain is one of only four countries in the European Economic Area that does not use a more modern system of intelligence checks.

The problems were highlighted by the case Arnis Zalkalns, the prime suspect for the murder of schoolgirl Alice Gross, who was allowed into the country despite murdering his wife in his native Latvia. His previous conviction in his homeland went unchecked and undiscovered.

The NAO said that missed opportunities in identifying foreign criminals had cost the country £70m. The problems came despite a tenfold increase in staff.

“This report shows the Home Office are not doing enough to crack down on foreign prisoners,” said David Hanson, the shadow immigration minister.

The report said that an estimated 151 foreign prisoners were released from prison after 2009 without being considered for deportation – the issue that saw Mr Clarke fired in 2006.

Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said: "Foreign nationals who fundamentally abuse our hospitality by committing crime should be in no doubt of our resolute approach in seeking their removal.”