Hundreds of foreign nationals have disappeared after being released from prison for offences including rape, violence and weapons possession, it has emerged.
Figures show that almost 500 convicts absconded while facing deportation from the UK in little over two years, with more than 200 remaining at large after others were tracked down.
If there is no immediate prospect of removal, foreign nationals who have served jail sentences can be released on probation on the condition that they report to the Home Office at set intervals and agree to any bail conditions and monitoring.
If they fail to attend an appointment and cannot be contacted, they are recorded as absconders and may be searched for by the police.
Tim Loughton, a Conservative member of the Home Affairs Committee, said: “It is extraordinary that the Home Office has allowed so many convicted foreign offenders who clearly have no place to remain in the UK to roam free to do as they wish whilst paperwork for their deportation is being sorted.
“There should be a fast track deportation system from the prison to the plane with clear information sharing to make sure they do not gain entry again.”
Home Office data released through a Freedom of Information request by the Press Association shows that 494 foreign national offenders disappeared while they were subject to deportation action between 2014 and the end of March 2016.
A total of 169 absconded in 2014, followed by 250 in 2015 and 75 in the first three months of 2016.
The statistics show 196 male absconders remained at large as of 9 February, along with around 20 women.
They included people with convictions for rape, sexual offences, violence, robbery, drug-related crime, fraud, money laundering, possession of weapons, burglary, forgery, motoring offences and handling stolen goods.
Exact figures were not disclosed for most categories, including rape, as they were not specified when the number was five or lower.
The Home Office said it could not provide data on offenders’ nationalities because disclosure could undermine agreements with other countries and prejudice the operation of immigration controls.
The figures were revealed months after the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration found that the system for handling foreign offenders was “under strain”.
David Bolt found that deportation attempts were “regularly frustrated” by last-minute legal challenges and warned of public protection concerns over monitoring those at large.
“The system is hampered by poor communication and coordination within the Home Office,” he said in November.
“The inspection found that recording and treatment of non-compliance with reporting restrictions was inconsistent, and there was little evidence of effective action to locate absconders.”
Around 80,000 people were being monitored at the time of the inspection, with the caseload at some London reporting centres meaning officers could only speak to each person for two minutes each.
Inspectors found that the way absconders are reported was inconsistent around the country, with some centres waiting several weeks to raise the alarm.
A new prioritisation process for higher-risk cases was introduced in July and a separate review on how the Home Office treats foreign nationals who do not comply with restrictions is under way.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We have removed more than 41,000 foreign offenders since 2010. In 2016-17 we removed 6,346 foreign offenders, the highest number of removals ever and this week, like every week, more than 100 foreign criminals will be removed from the UK.
“We never give up trying to locate absconders and are overhauling the reporting system. We’ve introduced measures in the Immigration Act 2016, which will mean that in the future all non-detained foreign nationals subject to deportation proceedings or a deportation order will be electronically monitored.”
Additional reporting by PA
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