We'll never know how many terror suspects got in, says May
Published 08/11/2011 | 05:00
Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, admitted last night that the number of people who entered the country without being checked against a Home Office database of terror suspects and illegal immigrants will never be known.
Mrs May said she had launched three inquiries as she told MPs senior staff had extended a pilot scheme she had authorised in April designed to focus checks on high-risk passengers entering the UK.
She told the House of Commons that senior officials had "let down" hard-working staff and promised that those found guilty of relaxing checks without authorisation from ministers would be punished.
Mrs May said UK border force head Brodie Clark "authorised the wider relaxation of border controls without ministerial sanction".
Mr Clark has since been suspended amid reports that border guards were told this summer not to bother checking fingerprints and other personal details against a Home Office database.
Mrs May said in July she agreed the UK Border Agency (UKBA) could "pilot a scheme that would allow officials to target intelligence-led checks on higher-risk categories of travellers".
Under the scheme, European children, "travelling with their parents or as part of a school group, would be checked against the warnings index -- designed to detect terrorists and serious criminals -- when assessed by a border force official to be a credible risk", Mrs May said.
"The pilot also allowed, under limited circumstances, border force officials the discretion to judge when to open the biometric chip -- which contains a second photograph and no further information -- on the passports of EEA nationals.
But on Wednesday last week, Mr Clark confirmed to Rob Whiteman, the UKBA chief executive, that "border controls had been relaxed without ministerial approval".
Biometric checks on European nationals and warnings- index checks on children from the EU "were abandoned on a regular basis, without ministerial approval," Mrs May said.
Adults were not checked against the warnings index at Calais, and the fingerprint checks of non-EEA nationals from countries that require a visa were stopped, she said.
"I did not give my consent or authorisation for any of these decisions," Mrs May told MPs.
"Indeed I told officials explicitly that the pilot was to go no further than we had agreed."
The pilot scheme, which had been due to end on Friday, was suspended when the unauthorised relaxation of the control was confirmed, Mrs May said.
Graeme Kyle, the border force's director of operations at Heathrow, and Carole Upshall, director of the force's south and European operations, were also suspended from duty "on a precautionary basis", she said.
Mrs May added: "Our task now is to make sure that those responsible are punished and to make sure that Border Force officials can never take such risks with border security again. That is what I am determined to do."