May admits 500,000 entered UK without full security checks

 

The UK Border Agency is to be stripped of its enforcement powers after an investigation uncovered a catalogue of failures that allowed hundreds of thousands of people into the country without adequate checks.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, ordered that the UK Border Force be separated from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and established as a separate force with a senior police officer put in charge. Its enforcement role includes refusing entry to passengers without suitable entry papers, catching smugglers, identifying fugitives and arresting illegal immigrants.

She announced the split as she told MPs that the Vine report into border security checks had identified repeated failings. They included the failure to carry out checks designed to identify terrorists trying to enter the UK.

Checks, including Warnings Index checks on 500,000 people travelling into the UK on Eurostar services, were often suspended without ministerial approval, the report by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of the UKBA, found.

Much of the report was devoted to highlighting the failings of the UKBA but ministers also came under fire for a "lack of clarity" in their dealings with staff at the agency and for using language that included references to "summer pressures" and "further measures" that were open to interpretation.

Mr Vine launched his investigation last year after it emerged that border checks were being relaxed at ports and airports without ministerial approval.

He found security checks had been suspended regularly and applied inconsistently since at least 2007 as border staff attempted to keep passengers flowing through ports without long delays. Ms May told the Commons: "The Vine report reveals a Border Force that suspended important checks without permission; that spent millions on new technologies but chose not to use them; that was led by managers who did not communicate with their staff; and that sent reports to ministers that were inaccurate, unbalanced and excluded key information."

Mrs May added that, despite many checks being missed, the failures did not mean people being waved through customs with no checks.

Brodie Clark, the head of the UK border force, quit in November amid the row over lax border security soon after being suspended. He had admitted using guidance designed for health and safety emergencies to suspend fingerprint checks at the UK's ports, actions which had no ministerial authorisation, but accused Mrs May of publicly blaming him for "political convenience".

LOSING TRACK: HOW CONTROLS WERE CUT

* Warning Index checks, in which passengers are checked against a list of undesirables, were suspended 354 times, affecting 500,000 people arriving on the Eurostar.

* Chip readers for biometric checks were deactivated 14,812 times from January to June 2011.

* Secure ID checks, fingerprints scans for those requiring visas, were suspended 482 times between June 2010 and November 2011.

* Operation Savant, a scheme at Heathrow which made entry easier for students from low-risk countries, was created without the knowledge of senior staff or ministers.

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