Reid Is Accused Of Burying Bad News On Asylum And Jails

Reid is accused of burying bad news on asylum and jails
By Ben Leapman Home Affairs Correspondent

Last Updated: 11:34pm BST 21/10/2006
The Telegraph

More than 1,000 illegal immigrants are caught after they have smuggled themselves into Britain every month, Home Office figures have revealed.

Last year 12,889 people were registered as “clandestine entrants” after they were detected at ports and airports. Nine out of 10 were male.

(Photo: Home Secretary, John Reid)

But illegal immigration is a bigger problem than the figures suggest because they do not take account of those who remain undetected.

The Government says there are between 310,000 and 570,000 illegal immigrants in the UK.

The figures for stowaways emerged in a raft of controversial documents published by the Home Office last week, which prompted allegations that ministers were seeking to “bury bad news” by putting out so much information at once.

The department quietly released 37 papers on its website in just five days after they were requested under the Freedom of Information Act, more than it had released in the previous two months.

The sensitive papers included statistics on failed asylum seekers remaining in Britain, huge compensation payouts to prisoners, and details of staff bullying.

Critics pointed out that the documents were released in what had already become a busy week for John Reid, the Home Secretary.

On Monday, it emerged that two terrorist suspects had gone on the run despite being issued with control orders. On Thursday, quarterly crime figures showed a five per cent rise in robberies. On Friday, with dozens of prisoners in police cells, officials announced they were seeking a new prison ship.

Opposition parties accused Mr Reid of seeking minimum publicity for embarrassing facts, in the style of Jo Moore, the former Labour spin doctor, who described the day of the September 11 terror attacks as “a good day to bury bad news”. Among the revelations in the documents released last week are:

Last year, 186 prisoners won a total of 4 million compensation from the Home Office following claims of medical negligence, accidental injury or other mishap. The biggest payout was 2.8 million over a failed suicide bid.

Of 4,300 Kosovans who fled to Britain during the 1999 conflict, at least 646 are still here even though their homeland is now peaceful.

In the three months to June, 171 staff resigned from the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, of whom 32 cited “discrimination, harassment or bullying” as the reason.

Since 2004, 25 officers at New Hall women's prison, in West Yorkshire, have been investigated over disciplinary matters; of those, six have resigned and seven have been disciplined.

Last year, warders at Featherstone and Brinsford jails, both in Wolverhampton, found and confiscated 11 blades, three sharpened objects, three glass shards, 10 lighters, 29 drug stashes and six mobile phones.

Sixty-three sex offenders have committed suicide in prison since 1998.

The budget for the Home Office press office was more than 3 million in 2004/5.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “The Home Secretary's spin doctors seem willing to go to any lengths to bury bad news.”

For the Conservatives, David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “These releases suggest Mr Reid remains more concerned with managing headlines than protecting public safety.”

Mr Reid's spokesman insisted it was no more than a “coincidence” that so many documents had been released in one week.

Earlier this year, Mr Reid and his predecessor, Charles Clarke, were accused of trying to play down bad news stories by manipulating the timing of Home Office research reports.