Nearly 650,000 warnings of potential drug and tobacco smuggling were deleted from a computer system monitoring millions of people entering and leaving Britain, an inspection of the country's frontier controls has discovered.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was accused of presiding over a “catalogue of chaos” at ports and airports following the disclosure by John Vine, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.
Mr Vine said the e-Borders system under which advanced information about visitors to Britain is checked against watch-lists of terrorists and criminals, was still not delivering many of its promised benefits despite being launched six years ago. He said only 65 per cent of new arrivals were covered because of complications under European Union law.
He said 649,000 separate pieces of information about possible drug and tobacco smuggling had been deleted over a ten-month period without being read, undermining efforts to seize illicit goods and arrest smugglers.
They were wiped out because of “poor data quality and the prioritisation of immigration over customs work”.
Mr Vine added: “These deletions had a significant impact on the ability of staff at the border to seize prohibited and restricted goods and deal with those responsible.”
Although he said the e-Borders programme had led to the arrest of thousands of suspects, he also warned that staff in locations other than Heathrow Airport had not acted on alerts about “high-risk individuals.”
Mark Harper, the Immigration minister, said the performance of Border Force was improving significantly and excessive queues had almost vanished in airport arrival halls.
He said: “The security of the border is now at the heart of everything Border Force does. Passengers travelling to Britain are checked across a variety of databases before departure and upon arrival.”
But Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “It is an outrage that drug smugglers have been able to get away with it because basic information was never acted on.”
She said: “Theresa May needs to sort out the catalogue of chaos at border control. She needs to stop drug smuggling information being deleted and get the proper border controls in place.”