Home Office in turmoil as convictions fall

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Home Office figures show that only 9.7 per cent of all "serious woundings" reported to police result in conviction. The figure falls to 8.9 per cent for robberies and 5.5 per cent for rape, The Observer reports. Serious woundings have risen by more than half to 20,000 a year over the past decade, the paper says.

The report will heap more pressure on the new Home Secretary, John Reid, who has faced numerous stories of Home Office ineptitude since he took over three weeks ago.

Barbara Roche, a former immigration minister, said the Home Office had been "overwhelmed" by the problems it faced from asylum seekers and illegal entrants to Britain. The embattled department should be stripped of its job monitoring asylum statistics, she said.

Ministers were plunged into further disarray over the handling of foreign offenders last night with claims that up to 500 may have been freed from mental hospitals without being considered for deportation.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "John Reid should have told us all and notified every chief of police in the country as soon as it became clear an error had been made. This is a desperately serious problem for a Home Office already in crisis."

Tony Blair sacked Mr Reid's predecessor, Charles Clarke, after more than 1,000 foreign offenders were released from jail without being considered for deportation. Now Mr Blair is bracing himself for disclosures about the number of foreign offenders not deported from Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In an unpublicised passage of a report on foreign offenders, Mr Reid said last week that his officials had no idea how many potential deportees had been released from secure hospitals such as Rampton, Broadmoor and Ashworth. He has ordered an investigation.

Paul Farmer, head of the mental health charity Mind, said the row ignored the fact that anyone released from a secure hospital would have been assessed as not posing a threat.

He added that the NHS did not generally investigate a patient's immigration status.