UK border control is 'neither effective nor efficient', sacked watchdog says, with 147 child migrants still missing

29 February 2024, 19:23 | Updated: 29 February 2024, 22:47

Staff said the increase relates to a greater number of Albanian children entering asylum hotels since the 2022 inspection.
Staff said the increase relates to a greater number of Albanian children entering asylum hotels since the 2022 inspection. Picture: Alamy
Jasmine Moody

By Jasmine Moody

The former borders chief inspector has slammed Britain's border control as 'ineffective' as new documents show that 467 children went missing from asylum hotels with nearly 150 still unaccounted for.

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David Neal, the former borders and immigration inspector, was sacked last week after he "lost the confidence of the Home Secretary".

Today, the Home Office published 13 reports he authored, revealing the missing child asylum seeker figures.

Staff said the increase relates to a greater number of Albanian children entering asylum hotels since the 2022 inspection.

These children are at greater risk of going missing, according to staff.

In one of the 13 published papers, one Home Office team leader said they would "make a game" of disclosing to the children who would be the next to leave for a placement.

Staff would ask children to guess who would be next, before revealing their names.

Inspectors saw this to be insensitive and upsetting to the children.

Natasha Clark dissects new documents on Britain's borders released by Home Office

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We recognise that independent scrutiny, such as that provided by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), plays an important role in ensuring we have a well-functioning immigration system. 

"We take ICIBI reports very seriously and work has been underway to implement the recommendations in these reports since we received them, regardless of the fact they haven’t been published. 

"This has included improvements to how we manage information on ePassport gates so that faults are better identified and fixed and improving training materials for asylum casework teams."

Other findings from Mr Neal's reports include blasting the Home Office for having "a culture of defensiveness" and that it "will not change" if it does not want to.

The Daily Mail newspaper reported data provided to Mr Neal showed the UK Border Force failed to check the occupants of hundreds of high-risk, private jets arriving at London City Airport - but the department disputed the figures.

A series of concerns about the performance of Border Force was also raised, warning protections at UK airports were neither "effective nor efficient", with ePassport gates left unmanned.

The basics were "not being done well" at arrival halls, with operations "hampered" by an inconsistent lack of resources, Mr Neal said.

Other findings said staff working with children and vulnerable adults in asylum accommodation in Northern Ireland had not been subject to the necessary safeguarding checks or been trained.

Today, published documents have revealed that nearly 500 asylum-seeking children had gone missing.
Today, published documents have revealed that nearly 500 asylum-seeking children had gone missing. Picture: Alamy

While a separate report found Afghans fleeing to the UK after the Taliban takeover were "unknowingly failing" to meet resettlement scheme requirements because of a "secret policy" by the Home Office on hotel accommodation.

Separately, Mr Neal highlighted blunders due to an "over-reliance" on using Google Maps to carry out checks on locations ahead of planned illegal working enforcement raids - which resulted in officers finding the entrance to one property had moved from the front to the back of the building since the Google Street View images they had seen had been taken.

The Government said it would carry out a review into guidance for reconnaissance "to ensure it is sufficiently rigorous".

The criticism from David Neal was set out in stark terms among a raft of reports the government department finally published on Thursday in the wake of his sacking, after months of delays.

The former chief inspector of borders and immigration's exit came after he was embroiled in a row with the Home Office about concerns he was raising in a report submitted over security checks at airports - one of two outstanding documents still yet to be published by the Home Office.

Read More: Home Office fires immigration chief inspector David Neal after claims about security risks at major London airport

Read More: Asylum seeker who piloted 'unseaworthy' boat over Channel as four migrants drowned to death guilty of manslaughter

A Home Office spokesman said in a statement: "We have terminated the appointment of David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, after he breached the terms of appointment and lost the confidence of the Home Secretary.

"The planned recruitment process for the next Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is in progress."

Labour said the move shows "total Tory chaos on borders and immigrations".

Today, published documents have revealed that nearly 500 asylum-seeking children had gone missing.
Today, published documents have revealed that nearly 500 asylum-seeking children had gone missing. Picture: Alamy

The bundle of reports was published all at the same time, late in the afternoon, on the same day as damning findings from an inquiry into Sarah Everard's murder by serving police officer Wayne Couzens.

A series of significant immigration statistics were released as well as a host of other major developments.

But Downing Street downplayed suggestions this was a deliberate move in an attempt to bury bad news.

A No.10 spokeswoman said: "We wanted to publish them as swiftly as possible following the necessary and appropriate due diligence."

David Neal has 'lost the confidence of the Home Secretary'
David Neal has 'lost the confidence of the Home Secretary'. Picture: social media

Labour branded the publication a "broken borders dossier", with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper claiming: "This is the border chaos the Tories are trying to hide.

"Ministers have sat on these devastating reports for months in a bid to hide their utter failure to protect our borders ... They have tried to bury this bad news, but the public deserve the truth ... This is a Government that has lost its way and on their watch our borders are less secure, and our asylum system is falling apart."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: "These damning reports were held back for a scandalous amount of time. Home Office ministers are running scared of their own failings and ducking accountability.

"We need a new inspector immediately, not in six months' time. This derelict Conservative Government must be held accountable for their incompetence."

But the Home Office said it had "delivered" on a promise to publish all overdue report as soon as possible, adding: "The publication of these reports that scrutinise the activity of the Home Office and make recommendations for improvement is in and of itself a demonstration of transparency and acceptance of independent scrutiny."

The two final reports will be published "in the established eight-week period" and the process of hiring a replacement watchdog is "already underway", a spokeswoman added.

Mr Neal said it was too soon to comment on the decision.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tom Pursglove, the immigration minister, told the House of Commons that the Home Office "categorically rejects" Mr Neal's claims.

It had been said that hundreds of high-risk flights landed in the UK without security checks.

Home Secretary, James Cleverly
Home Secretary, James Cleverly. Picture: Getty

Mr Pursglove said: "When it comes to the questions that she raises around these flights at London City airport and the information that has been put in the public domain, the Home Office categorically rejects these claims by David Neal."

Ms Cooper said ministers had been "repeatedly warned about border security risks on private flights", telling MPs: "The Prime Minister may just think it's all his own mates, but there are real risks from organised crime, money laundering, drugs, weapons smuggling, trafficking and even terrorism."

Mr Pursglove insisted Border Force performed "checks on 100% of scheduled passengers arriving in the UK and risk-based intelligence-led checks on general aviation".

He added: "It's deeply disturbing that information which has no basis in fact was leaked by the independent chief inspector to a national newspaper before the Home Office had the chance to respond.

"We are urgently investigating this breach of confidential information in full in the normal way."

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