Unit Set Up To Find Foreign Prisoners Disbanded

{mosimage} The special police and immigration service unit set up to locate the more than 1,000 foreign prisoners released without consideration of deportation was quietly disbanded three months ago, the Home Office confirmed yesterday. The Portsmouth based unit was needed primarily to locate and detain the 43 most serious offenders – those convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape or sexual offences against children. Seven have still to be traced and one of these is believed to have died abroad. It remains unclear whether nearly 500 of the prisoners have been located.

“We have got the vast majority of them now under lock and key,” the home secretary, John Reid, said. “Some of them, we think, may be dead or out of the country. The resources that we put into tracing the others – about 40 or 50 of them – have now come to the end of their useful life in their present configuration,” he added. “But it doesn’t mean that the general efforts have been stopped.”

The foreign prisoners scandal, which surfaced in April, led to the removal of Charles Clarke as home secretary and a pledge from Mr Reid to make the issue his priority. Mr Reid is expected to give an upbeat report on the reform of the “not-fit-for-purpose” Home Office at the Labour party conference on Thursday.

The last official announcement was made by Lin Homer, director general of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, to the home affairs committee in June. She said 46 of the 1,013 prisoners had been deported. There were 239 in detention and 55 on bail. A decision not to pursue deportation had been taken in 180 cases. Of the 43 in the most serious category, 25 were detained, five bailed, one deported and five allowed to remain.

A further 146 had been placed in the “more serious” category for other sex offences, kidnapping and violent crime including armed robbery, causing bodily harm and indecent assault. Of these, 43 were detained, 10 bailed, three deported, and 23 allowed to remain, leaving 67 unaccounted for. Ms Homer said a decision to pursue deportation had been taken in 705 cases and “urgent work” continued on tracking down the most serious offenders.

In a further sign of disarray at the Home Office, it was reported that more than 500 foreign prisoners are being kept in prison beyond their release date due to delays in processing their deportation papers.

As an explanation for the changing statistics released by officers and ministers throughout the crisis, Ms Homer admitted the Home Office’s antiquated data systems meant it was impossible to produce accurate information. The absence of a unique identifying number for offenders was a particular deficiency.