Rishi Sunak still has 'confidence' in Home Secretary Suella Braverman despite Legionella discovery on Bibby Stockholm

14 August 2023, 14:09

Rishi Sunak has confidence in Suella Braverman despite Legionella discovery on Bibby Stockholm
Rishi Sunak has confidence in Suella Braverman despite legionellas. Picture: Alamy

By StephenRigley

Rishi Sunak still has confidence in beleaguered Home Secretary Suella Braverman and her department despite the ongoing controversy around the Bibby Stockholm, Downing Street has said.

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The prime minister's official spokesman defended the Home Office's response to the discovery of Legionella on the barge last week, but said lessons would be learned following the incident.

All 39 people who boarded the barge, docked in Portland, were moved off on Friday after the bacteria was found in the water supply. None of the migrants on the barge have shown any symptoms of the disease, according to the Home Office.

Dorset Council said its staff had discovered legionella on Monday and told government-hired contractors operating the boat the same day. That means some migrants were exposed to the bacteria for four days.

Removing the legionella from the barge's water supply is expected to take about a week.

Asked if ministers would be looking into the role of the contractors, the government spokesman said: "I think we will be communicating with all relevant groups to see if there are any lessons that can be learned, as you would expect in any public health situation.

"We remain confident that we have acted quickly once informed."

However, Number 10 said the Home Office was still "clarifying" when officials were made aware of issues on the Bibby Stockholm barge.

"Ministers were made aware on Thursday evening about the results of the test," the spokesman said.

Pressed about who made the decision to put migrants on the boat before the test results for Legionella bacteria came back, he said it was a "decision taken by the Home Office in conjunction, having all the relevant tests being done and making sure that the checks are in place".

"These are routine precautionary tests for Legionella which is why people were able to embark.," the spokesman added.

Health Secretary Steve Barclays said he wanted the migrants to get back on when the barge is ready again.

"It is costing £6 million a day in terms of the cost of hotels," he told Sky News. "It is important that we both maintain safety standards but also reflect the pressure on the taxpayer position in terms of that £6 million."

Read More: Asylum seeker torture survivor says legionella-hit Bibby Stockholm reminds him of unsanitary ‘refugee camp’

Read More: Migrants moved off Bibby Stockholm just days after boarding as Legionella bacteria found in the water

The Bibby Stockholm
The Bibby Stockholm. Picture: Alamy

Legionella can cause Legionnaires' disease, a lung infection that causes flu-like symptoms, coughs, chest pain and shortness of breath.

In extreme cases, it can lead to people coughing up blood. Around one in ten people with Legionnaires' die, according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Dorset Council has now said it informed the "responsible organisations", barge operators CTM and Landry & Kling, about the preliminary test results on Monday, the same day it received them.

Read more: Bibby Stockholm workers hired by government knew about Legionella on barge 'the day migrants moved in'

Bibby Stockholm
Bibby Stockholm. Picture: Alamy

A Home Office official was then told about the discovery on Tuesday, the council said, but Mr Barclay said ministers did not know about the presence of the bacteria until Thursday.

"My understanding from colleagues in the Home Office is it was notified to Home Office ministers on Thursday and they then took very quick action as a result," he said.

A council spokesperson said: "To be clear, it was not Dorset Council's responsibility to inform the Home Office - that responsibility sat with CTM and Landry & King, the companies contracted by the Home Office to operate the barge."

CTM and Landry & Kling have also been contacted for comment.

Read more: Migrants moved off Bibby Stockholm just days after boarding as Legionella bacteria found in the water

Read more: Asylum seeker torture survivor says legionella-hit Bibby Stockholm reminds him of unsanitary ‘refugee camp’

Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset, where asylum seekers are being removed due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply
Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset, where asylum seekers are being removed due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply. Picture: Alamy

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock wrote to his opposite number on Saturday asking what the Home Office knew about the risk of the bacteria being present before moving migrants onto the barge.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the barge would not serve as a "solution" to the backlog even without the presence of the bacteria.

He said: "The primary thing that's been revealed has been the startling incompetence of the Home Office itself... It's really, really hard to understand how, at all layers, this could not be caught early".

The senior Conservative MP suggested the problems could be related to "management" of the department rather than "ministerial" issues specifically, but added: "Even working properly, the Bibby barge would only take effectively one day's arrivals.

"So it's not a solution to the problem and all of this is going to go on until the Home Office is able to process these arrivals more quickly."

Tim Loughton said the evacuation was an "embarrassment" and smacked of "incompetence," coming at the end of a week in which the Government had planned a series of announcements aimed at promoting its immigration approach.

The Tory MP told the Telegraph: "This is deeply troubling and rapidly turning into a farce that the Home Office can ill afford."

But the government still plans to expand its fleet of floating migrant barges, as well as office and student accommodation blocks.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman
Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Picture: Getty

It comes after six migrants died while crossing the English Channel in the early hours of Saturday morning.

All six migrants were Afghan men, French authorities said.

More than 50 people were rescued from the ship that was crossing the channel, including children.

Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset
Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset. Picture: Alamy

A patrol boat told authorities that a migrant boat was sinking off the French town of Sangatte at around 4am on Saturday, France's Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea said.

Local mayor Franck Dhersin said dozens of boats were trying to make the crossing at the same time.

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