May 4, 2006: We Can't Find 38 of the Serious Foreign Criminals, Says Clarke
We can't find 38 of the serious foreign criminals, says Clarke
Package of deportation measures fails to calm storm around home secretary
Alan Travis and Patrick Wintour
Thursday May 4, 2006
Charles Clarke yesterday failed to quell the foreign prisoner crisis that is engulfing him after it was confirmed that at least 38 of the most serious offenders who were released have still not been found.
Despite a special operation by police and immigration officers mounted over the bank holiday weekend, the authorities have only managed to catch up with about 12 more serious offenders since the home secretary admitted the scale of the fiasco last Tuesday.
An emergency package of measures to reform the deportation laws, hastily finalised over the last week, was unveiled yesterday by Mr Clarke to MPs. But it failed to stem opposition demands for his resignation and angered human rights lawyers who predicted it would provoke a series of high court challenges.
The Home Office last night denied damaging new claims that one released prisoner, an Iraqi Kurd who is wanted for the attempted murder of a Latvian man and a sex attack on a 15-year-old girl, was among the 79 most serious offenders who were released without being considered for deportation. “He was considered for deportation but it was not pursued. We are trying to clarify the reasons,” said a Home Office spokeswoman.
But the fact that Caliph Ali Asmar, 25, is the prime suspect in such a case so soon after his release last March, after a conviction for unlawful wounding, only underlines the unresolved parallel crisis the home secretary is facing over the probation supervision of violent offenders after their release.
In his update to MPs, Mr Clarke could only confirm that 32 of the 79 most serious offenders who had been released – including convicted killers, rapists and child sex offenders – had been accounted for either by being among the 20 deported so far or “within the control” of the authorities. In nine of the 79 cases it was decided to let them stay in the country.
The Home Office confirmed that the remaining 38 still remained at large. The figure could go even higher when the status of a further 11 cases newly identified yesterday as also in the “more serious” category is established.
The failure to track down nearly half the most serious offenders dashed government hopes that the emergency package of deportation reforms, including a controversial new legal presumption that all serious foreign offenders will be deported, would resolve the crisis.
Mr Blair, sensing the public's outrage at the emerging treatment of convicted foreigners, said his aim was to make sure “the system is radically overhauled so those convicted of a serious criminal offence are deported automatically”. Downing Street made clear it relished a fight with the courts and the liberal media over the issue but the credibility of this strategy took a knock when Mr Clarke had to make a more careful legal acknowledgement that there will be circumstances where automatic deportation is not possible.
Mr Blair also robustly defended his home secretary by saying “in my view he is not responsible for a system that has not worked for decades”. His remarks, and the broad support of the backbenches, means Mr Clarke is safe until next week's reshuffle, and probably after that.
Labour did not disguise the damage the episode has had on the doorstep on the eve of local elections, and conceded parts of the Labour vote were “drifting to the third, fourth and fifth parties”, a reference to the Liberal Democrats, Greens and British National party.
Mr Cameron maintained the pressure for Mr Clarke to go: “The fact is, a thousand people were released from prison and their deportation wasn't even considered. This home secretary will forever be associated with the scandal of releasing foreign prisoners on to our streets.”