Priti Patel appoints 'clandestine channel threat commander' to tackle migrant crossings

8 August 2020, 23:19

Ms Patel appointed Dan O'Mahoney a former Border Force official
Ms Patel appointed Dan O'Mahoney a former Border Force official. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

Home Secretary Priti Patel has tasked a former Royal Marine to tackle channel migrant crossings.

Ms Patel appointed Dan O'Mahoney, a former Border Force official, to the role of "clandestine Channel threat commander", the Home Office said.

The move came as ministers were under increasing pressure to act after a record number of people made the perilous crossing.

On Saturday, the Home Office formally asked defence chiefs for naval support for Border Force in the Dover Straits.

Mr O'Mahoney is expected to press France for stronger enforcement measures and to adopt interceptions and the return of boats at sea.

Ms Patel said: "The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling. We are working to make this route unviable and arresting the criminals facilitating these crossings and making sure they are brought to justice.

"Dan's appointment is vital to cutting this route by bringing together all operational partners in the UK and in France."

Mr O'Mahoney was deployed in Kosovo and Iraq while in the marines and held senior roles at the National Crime Agency and Border Force Heathrow before becoming director of the Joint Maritime Security Centre, according to the Home Office.

He said: "This role is vitally important in the fight to end the heinous crime of people smuggling across the Channel."

Priti Patel on increased migrants coming to the UK

However, ministers were warned of potentially fatal capsizings and legal challenges after it emerged they were considering blocking boats in the Channel before they enter British waters.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on Saturday that it is "working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist" after receiving a request under the military aid to the civilian authorities (MACA) protocol.

"As ever, the MoD will do all it can to support HMG requirements," a statement said.

Assistance likely to be under consideration includes surveillance, reconnaissance and command control.

But the request came after an MoD source said that any request for naval assistance would be "completely potty".

"We don't resort to deploying armed forces to deal with political failings," the source said.

The Coastguard dealt with a "number of incidents" off the Kent coast on Saturday, after the Home Office said 146 migrants made it to the UK in 17 boats on Friday.

On Thursday, at least 235 migrants made the dangerous journey in 17 boats, setting a new single-day record.

Immigration Minister Chris Philp said he will meet French counterparts next week to work "to stop these illegal migrants from getting in the water in the first place".

But he also wrote in the Telegraph that "we need to intercept those who manage to leave France" and said he would encourage the French "to look hard at interceptions at sea".