ONE of the biggest issues arising from our membership of the European Union is the principle of the free movement of people. Unsurprisingly, in reality, this often means the movement of people from poorer EU countries to the ones with more opportunities, higher wages or a more generous system of benefits. The UK ticks all these boxes.
The sheer number of people coming here is something which concerns me and many others. However, it seems that we do not just have to deal with the effects of the free movement of people but also, even more worryingly, the free movement of criminals. Being unable to generally control our borders is bad enough, but not being able to protect our people from foreign criminals is a national scandal as David Cameron accepts personal responsibility for this matter.
It is obvious that we not only have a problem with foreign criminals in this country but also a problem of not even knowing that they are already criminals when they come here.
I have campaigned for many years that we need to leave the EU – not least to control our own borders again. I believe we should seriously consider taking the DNA or fingerprints of those entering the country – especially from other EU countries whose people can move about more freely – in a bid to protect our law-abiding citizens from the serious threat these foreign criminals pose. Many have criminal records in other countries and yet some walk unchallenged through our borders with an EU passport.
There are many examples of situations where taking DNA or fingerprints at our borders could help. It could have prevented the Romanian burglar who left his fingerprints and DNA at many of the 31 homes he burgled getting away with these crimes because he was not on our DNA database when he entered the UK.
It would also deal with the Lithuanian burglar who was released from prison early and deported only to be found living back in Britain a mere 12 days later along with his accomplice who had apparently been deported from the country not just once but twice. It could also have helped to stop the Lithuanian who had been convicted of a knife-point robbery before he came to the UK going on to rape two women shortly after his arrival here.
Yet there could not be a more tragic example of the problem we face than the death of 14-year-old schoolgirl Alice Gross in West London, and whose funeral took place yesterday. Her body was found hidden in the River Brent, close to a canal towpath, and Arnis Zalkalns, the man suspected of killing her, had come from Latvia after apparently serving a paltry seven year prison sentence for killing his wife – yet nobody here knew of his terrible past. Governments have a duty to protect their citizens and this scandalous failure to do so has had the most dire consequences.
According to the Home Office, 20,000 foreign criminals have been returned to their native countries since 2010.
Despite this, prisons in England and Wales were home to 188 Latvians, 213 criminals from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, 460 Lithuanians, 671 Romanians and 862 Polish prisoners at one point last year. These are not the numbers who were imprisoned each year but just those in prison at one point in time. Despite there being prisoners from 160 countries in our prisons, according to the House of Commons Library, these six countries made up a staggering quarter of the total foreign prison population.
At the same time there were just 66 Spanish prisoners, 59 Germans, 57 Americans, 18 Canadians, 10 Australians and seven Thai prisoners.
By way of comparison, there are about as many Spanish nationals as those from the Czech Republic and Slovakia combined living here say estimates from the Office for National Statistics. There are similar numbers of Americans as Romanians and the number of Germans and Thais combined roughly equates to the Lithuanian national population.
Taking the fingerprints of people entering the country – and having a system which ensures that these are instantly linked to our own police database – is the minimum that should happen now. Then we need to work on building this up so, at the very least, we get the worst criminals from other countries linked to it and, if necessary, carry out more stringent checks on those coming from known problem countries.
Anyone coming here without a criminal past or without criminal intent will also be protected if we have a way of minimising the risk of this foreign criminality on our own doorstep. This is a small price for people to pay for visiting or moving to our great country. More importantly, failure to do so will make Britain an increasingly less great place to be for us all.
Philip Davies is the Conservative MP for Shipley.