Deportations still in chaos

SINCE the Home Office was declared unfit for purpose by incoming Home Secretary John Reid, this venerable office of state has undergone six years of upheaval. The latest findings about the level of compensation being paid out to criminals, however, suggests that, in spite of major reorganisation, common sense and competence are still at a premium.

Indeed, it seems that the UK Border Agency became so desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2006 scandal, when it emerged that more than 1,000 overseas criminals had been released from jail without being considered for deportation, that it began locking up criminals ready for deportation without actually checking whether or not they were eligible to be deported.

As a result, not only has £1m of taxpayers’ money been handed over to foreign criminals whom the courts declared illegally detained by UKBA, but in many cases the criminals who were held pending deportation turned out to be British citizens whom the Border Agency mistakenly categorised as foreigners.

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The Government, of course, can happily point out that these were yet more errors which occurred under the previous Labour administration. Yet Ministers cannot afford to be sanguine about any of this.

For the harsh reality is that these failings within the Home Office run so deep that it is over-optimistic to expect them to be consigned to the past merely through a change in the political complexion of the administration.

Indeed, the coalition Government’s own record, when it comes to protecting the UK’s borders, is hardly an unblemished one and that is why the upheaval is continuing still, with Home Secretary Theresa May splitting off the UK Border Force from the UK Border Agency.

These scandals have now gone on for so long, however, that public anxiety will only be assuaged not by administrative tinkering, but by clear and consistent evidence, firstly that officials can tell the difference between British and foreign criminals and secondly that the latter are being deported promptly and efficiently at the end of their jail terms.

Ministers are only too keen to blame human-rights law and European judges for the failure to keep criminals incarcerated, but until the Home Office gets its own house in order, it has no room to criticise others whatsoever.