Friday 23 March 2018

Women being singled out for airport strip searches – study

WOMEN are being disproportionately singled out for strip searches at Gatwick airport, an official study has found.

John Vine, the British Government’s chief inspector of immigration, highlighted the failings of security staff in a highly critical report.

It followed a study of the immigration and customs operation Gatwick Airport’s North Terminal last summer.

It was Mr Vine who disclosed the unauthorised relaxation of immigration checks which heaped embarrassment on Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and led to Brodie Clark being forced out of his job as Border Force.

He found a series of irregularities in the way in which searches were being conducted, which were not only discriminatory, with Afro-Caribbean women being singled out, but were also not recorded properly.

“Although the majority of person searches involved men, women were significantly more likely to be subject to a strip search than men if a search was undertaken.”

During this period 54pc of women who were stopped and inspected by Border Force officers were subsequently strip searched. For men the proportion was less than 20pc.

Grounds for subjecting woment to a strip search included the fact that they had bought a ticket the day before travel, were carrying £200 in cash or had said they were in Britain to look for hair and beauty products.

According to Mr Vine there were insufficient grounds to search the women who had been picked out at all, let alone subject them to a full strip search.

The way in which the searches were done and recorded was also legally questionable, Mr Vine added.

“The failure to observe the correct recording procedure can render evidence inadmissible in court and mean officers could face charges of assault in relation to the conduct of person searches.”

Mr Vine also observed that officers had stopped individuals because they felt they had to stop someone.

His report also highlighted an incident where a gay passenger was subject to discriminatory treatment because he was with a boyfriend and an officer believed "he might be involved in paedophilia".

“The officer then commented to another officer that the passenger was HIV positive; the colleague then advised that the searching officer should use stronger hand gel.

“These comments were made within earshot of the passenger and indeed other passengers in the channel.”

The Home Office did ask Mr Vine for further details of the cases which he highlighted in his report, published earlier this year, but the Inspector declined to do so.

A Border Force spokesman said: “We are disappointed that the inspector will not share details of the individual cases so that the Border Force can investigate and take further action as necessary.

“We have already addressed the Chief Inspector’s recommendations by introducing additional training for staff on issues of discrimination; we take discriminatory practice very seriously and have procedures in place to deal with any complaints.”

It is understood that changes implemented by the Border Force include an overhaul of how searches are recorded.

Guidance issued to staff at airports at airports is being rewritten to address the issues of discrimination as noted by the Vine report.

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