France restores tunnel policing after British ministers protest

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The Independent Online

France promised to restore police numbers at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel yesterday after asylum-seekers went unchallenged as they attempted to enter Britain.

Ministers protested to the French government after specialist police guarding Frethun freight yard, near Calais, were withdrawn on Friday. English, Welsh and Scottish Railways Ltd (EWS) warned that it could be forced to halt services after it caught 26 asylum-seekers clinging to a train at its freight yard in Folkestone on Sunday and another 45 at a depot at Ashford, Kent, the following day. It condemned the French authorities for scaling down the security operation at Frethun, a move made after security guards were injured in a brawl with immigrants.

Downing Street announced yesterday that a "full replacement squad" of 50 French officers had just arrived at the depot. Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "The French Interior Minister has given explicit assurances that policing there will be maintained."

He also said SNCF, the French rail company that runs the Frethun yard, had prom-ised to improve security around the freight yard over the next few months.

Eric Martos, a spokesman for SNCF, said: "On Friday about 300 asylum-seekers attacked the yard and it was impossible to stop them and it was a very critical situation.

"We have not withdrawn the Gendarmerie but the specialist police, who are not from the Calais area, were moved on Friday. That was probably where the confusion came from, as there was no specialist force over the weekend. Another one has been brought in today."

But Sue Evans, an EWS spokeswoman, said the measures did not go far enough. "Even if security is restored to what it was on Friday, we would still only be running around 40 to 50 per cent of normal services," she said.