The Home Office could face large compensation claims from victims of any crimes committed by foreign offenders that should have been deported.
The prospect of legal action against the Government emerged as Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, released fresh details of the fiasco. Lawyers stressed last night that there was no precise precedent for such a compensation claim, which would have to be tested in the courts.
But it is likely that Government solicitors have already supplied preliminary advice on the issue, including possible lines of defence, to Mr Clarke. Any victim of an offence carried out by a foreigner would automatically qualify for help from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. But a victim could be tempted to make a claim against the Home Office, which could result in a much bigger pay-out.
Jonathan Brain, a solicitor who specialises in personal injury claims, confirmed that ministers risked being sued under such circumstances. He said: "There could be a claim for breach by the Home Office of the care owed to members of the public to ensure that people who are potentially dangerous aren't at large and would present a foreseeable risk of injury or worse." David Wingate, a partner in a Manchester law firm, also said any compensation claim could depend on whether the Home Office could be demonstrated to have failed in its duty of care to the victim. He said: "The point would be whether the failure to deport led to a person being injured. That would be for the court to decide."
The nearest parallel is thought to date back to a legal battle in 1970, when young prisoners who were working on an island absconded from custody after the officers guarding them went to sleep. They boarded a yacht and collided with a craft owned by the Dorset Yacht company.
It sued the Home Office, which was eventually found liable for the damage.Reuse content