Sunday, November 6, 2011

UK border chief axed passport controls: Top civil servant faces firing over decision that left Britain open to terrorists and criminals

Vital border checks for criminals and terrorists were secretly abandoned over the summer.

In a major new immigration fiasco, three senior officials – including the £135,000-a-year head of the UK Border Force – have been suspended.

There are fears that hundreds of thousands of travellers waltzed into Britain without crucial vetting.

Unknown to ministers, guards were allegedly told not to bother checking biometric chips on passports of citizens from outside the EU to ensure they are not fraudsters.

More worryingly, staff were also instructed not to bother checking their fingerprints or other personal details against the Home Office’s so-called Warnings Index. This contains the names of terror suspects and illegal immigrants who must be refused entry to the UK to keep the public safe.

The nightmare scenario is that a banned fanatic slipped through the net while the lax regime was in place between July and the start of this month.

It is understood the decisions were taken to keep queues at busy ports and airports to a minimum and avoid complaints by holidaymakers and tourists.

The Home Secretary is said to be furious. Border Force head Brodie Clark was suspended on Thursday after allegedly confirming that he had authorised abandoning specific checks at ports including Heathrow and Calais.

Two more top officials, Graeme Kyle, the director of the UK Border Agency at Heathrow, and Carole Upshall, director of the Border Force South and European Operation, have also been suspended on the orders of Theresa May. She has ordered an investigation by David Wood, a former Met Police officer, to establish the scale of the scandal.

A second probe will take place into the role and activity of UKBA officials working for Mr Clark – who was once placed on gardening leave by a previous home secretary, John Reid, in an unrelated scandal concerning foreign criminals.

A senior source said criminal charges could be brought against anyone found to have put Britain’s borders at risk.

The revelations come after MPs revealed how the UK Border Agency – dubbed ‘not fit for purpose by Dr Reid – had ‘lost track’ of 124,000 asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

The latest row centres on the range of checks which UKBA officials are supposed to conduct against travellers as they arrive in the UK.

These checks are a mixture of regular measures applied to all passengers, plus additional ‘risk-based measures’ applied on the discretion of UKBA officers.

The regular measures include checking the passenger’s passport and biometric chip. This establishes if the picture inside the passport is the same as that electronically stored by the Home Office. It is considered vital to avoid fraud and illegal immigration, and biometric chips are now fitted as standard.

In addition, passports are also checked against the Warnings Index, which contains the names of excluded foreign nationals and individuals of concern.

For non-EU ‘visa nationals’, other measures such as the verification of fingerprints are mandatory. Further risk-based measures include secondary interviews.

In July, ministers gave approval to pilot a system that would allow officials to apply a ‘risk-based approach’ to a limited number of passenger checks.

Officials say this meant that in limited circumstances EU nationals would have their biometric chip checked upon the discretion of a UKBA official instead of automatically.

In addition, EU-national children travelling with their families or in school groups would, in limited circumstances, be run against the Warnings Index upon the discretion of a UKBA official instead of automatically.

Ministers insisted all other passengers would continue to have their passport and biometric chip checked and would be checked against the Warnings Index

But instead, Mr Clark is alleged to have authorised UKBA officials to abandon biometric checks on non-EU nationals, the verification of the fingerprints of non-EU nationals, and Warnings Index checks.

Asked about his suspension last night, Mr Clark said: ‘Who told you that?’ He declined to comment further. A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Head of UKBA Border Force Brodie Clark has been suspended.’


What immigration is doing to British schools

Playgrounds scrapped and children to share unisex toilets as British schools look to accommodate 350,000 extra pupils

Unisex toilets will be introduced in schools to create more classroom places. Playing fields will also no longer be an obligation – potentially killing off team sports such as football, hockey and netball.

Grounds will be filled with portable buildings and every spare space – such as store cupboards and sheds – will be used for teaching.

The ‘pack ’em in and pile ’em up’ measures, published yesterday, form part of the Government’s new rules on standards of school buildings. They paint a bleak picture of education as Britain becomes increasingly overcrowded.

The measures are a desperate bid to find space for an additional 350,000 primary pupils by 2015. The surge is the result of an immigration-fuelled baby boom.

It would cost £4.8billion to build enough primaries to accommodate the influx, according to Department for Education figures. The ministry is allocating an additional £500million for new places this year.

It is hoping schools will expand, creating the need for fewer new buildings, and yesterday’s relaxation of building regulations gives schools the means to do so.

Previously schools were – with the exception of academies and free schools – legally obliged to provide separate toilet facilities but now both primary and secondary schools will allow unisex toilets with urinals.

The DfE’s new regulations state: ‘A number of schools have provided toilets for use by both male and female pupils over the age of eight, even though this is not currently allowed by the regulation.’

A DfE spokesman confirmed urinals will be allowed under the regulations, provided cubicles, with locking doors, are also provided.

The change means female pupils as young as four will share toilet facilities with 11-year-old boys. And 11-year-old girls reaching puberty, will have to share with 18-year-old males.

Previous attempts to introduce unisex toilets have met a furious reaction from parents. Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, a parent group, said: ‘This idea is absolutely crazy. Parents are horrified. Most do not think it should be allowed. It’s very important that young people are not allowed to be pressured by the opposite sex and can retain their modesty.

‘There needs to be a place they can go for privacy. It will be especially horrible for girls through puberty.’

On playing fields, the DfE is seeking to relax regulations so they meet the ‘requirements of the curriculum’ and ‘enable pupils to play outside safely’. At present, the regulations ‘require that team game playing fields shall be provided which satisfy specified minimum areas based on pupil numbers and ages’.

The new regulations are set to be introduced in 2012.


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