Major faults in Britain’s border controls were divulged as an official investigation into the secret relaxation of security checks was published by a government watchdog.
The investigation by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, was ordered after the sacking of immigration chief Brodie Clark by Home Secretary Theresa May.
The official inquiry report into the Brodie Clark affair is critical of the role of ministers and senior UK Border Agency officials.
The report by John Vine, the external chief inspector of immigration, is into the dispute, last autumn.
Vine’s probe, which was published after a Commons statement by the Home Secretary, pinned the main blame, however, on systemic failures within the Border Agency over a prolonged period.
He also found that problems began before the current government took power, as well as continuing until the dismissal of Clark last year.
It had led to the then head of the UK border force, Brodie Clark, give up after he was accused of acting as a “rogue civil servant” by adopting “lighter touch” passport checks at Britain’s airports and ports without clear ministerial authorisation.
Clark was compelled to resign as head of the UK border force after an almost 40-year career in prisons and immigration after he was blamed by the home secretary of going beyond an agreed package of measures to manage with passport queues at Heathrow and other airports as well as port. He has launched a £135,000 constructive dismissal claim against the Home Office.
The Vine report is the first to be published in which the inquiry team has had way to all the official paperwork and emails.
It follows a report by the Commons home affairs select committee, which, although denied access to the papers, concluded that there was “a highly troubling” lack of management and breakdown in communication which led to passport controls being lifted far too frequently.
The MPs said they were alarmed to find out that security checks had been waived almost 100 times at Calais and at least 50 times between May and July last summer at Heathrow and other airports.
The given reasons comprised health and safety, keeping away from unnecessary queues in arrivals halls and baggage crisis, and probable delays in flight schedules.
The internal investigations into the affair were last week held responsible by the British Airports Authority for postponing the introduction of a £8m “e-gates” scheme at Heathrow’s five terminals. The e-gates would allow registered non-EU nationals to pass through electronic immigration controls.
The UKBA said last week that its Iris eye-scanner programme had been halted at Birmingham and Manchester airports but was still open at Heathrow and Gatwick. The immigration authorities say they want to rely on fingerprints and photographs rather than eye scans to conduct electronic passport checks. The e-gates were supposed to succeed the Iris channels.
Home Office is expected to release results of John Vine’s official inquiry into last year’s row over ‘lighter touch’ passport checks.