Reid admits that he misled MPs over release of offenders

John Reid faced severe embarassment over the foreign prisoner fiasco last night after admitting that a murderer, a rapist and a paedophile had been freed on bail just days after being arrested by police.

The day after he reassured MPs that four murderers and 23 other most-serious offenders were in custody, the Home Secretary was forced to apologise for misleading them.

In addition, he disclosed that another eight offenders ­ including four in the more serious category, which covers people convicted of violent crime ­ have also been bailed.

Compounding his discomfort, the bail hearings all took place since 5 May, when Tony Blair sacked Charles Clarke and replaced him with Mr Reid.

In a further embarrassing revelation last night, it emerged a senior immigration officer, under investigation over claims he offered to help a teenage asylum-seeker with her application in return for sex, was himself an illegal immigrant.

The Sun quoted an unnamed Whitehall source as saying: "He has a dubious immigration history but is apparently here legally now ... He arrived here legally from Ghana, and then overstayed." The Home Office refused to comment.

The department has been paralysed by a succession of crises since Mr Clarke first revealed last month that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released without deportation hearings.

The new Home Secretary delivered a withering assessment of the department on Tuesday when he said the immigration service was "not fit for purpose". He even told the Home Affairs Select Committee that figures supplied by his officials sometimes had to be revised within 24 hours.

His words came back to haunt him yesterday as he apologised for mistakenly telling the committee that 27 of the most serious offenders had been detained.

In a letter to John Denham, the committee chairman, he admitted that a series of potentially dangerous offenders had been released on bail over the past 10 days. Mr Reid said: "To be put in a position where information was wrongly given to your committee ­ in spite of the caveats that I put around that information ­ is not acceptable and I apologise."

He said that he had instructed officials to "re-check" all facts provided to the hearing and announced that one senior civil servant had been removed from his current duties and "plans to change significantly the duties of another" had been speeded up. Mr Denham said last night: "It would appear that some civil servants knew 10 days ago the courts had started releasing serious offenders on bail, but didn't tell the Home Secretary."

Damian Green, the shadow Immigration minister, said: "When a home secretary warns that nobody can believe Home Office figures it shows a complete failure of administration. What is even more serious is that even more dangerous criminals are on our streets than we knew before." Aides said Mr Reid reacted with "utter fury" when he learnt he had been given the wrong information about the prisoners.

Once foreigners are issued with deportation papers, they have the automatic right to appeal with the possibility of bail. Home Office sources said last night application for bail had been opposed in all cases. Mr Reid has issued instructions that all further bail applications be contested "as vigorously as possible".

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