Escape blunder as Jacqui Smith launches immigration crackdown
By Richard Edwards
Last Updated: 8:37PM BST 19/06/2008
Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, faced embarrassment today after seven illegal immigrants broke out of a detention centre on the day she unveiled a new crackdown on immigration.
Miss Smith revealed a “tough” strategy for tackling offenders and launched it by meeting with police officers carrying out dawn raids on alleged bent solicitors and bogus colleges.
But within hours, news had emerged of a security breach at the Campsfield detention centre in Oxfordshire. Three men who were facing deportation are on the run tonight.
Opposition leaders hit out at repeated, “unacceptable” blunders at Campsfield and said the timing of the incident, coinciding with the new policy launch, was “sadly appropriate”.
In a raft of new measures, Miss Smith announced that the UK Border Agency would “name and shame” employers who hire illegal immigrants, that those who were convicted and sentenced to a year or more faced “automatic deportation”, and launched a crackdown on illegal immigrants obtaining British driving licences.
In the London raids, police arrested at least eight men and women linked with companies they believe helped illegal immigrants to settle in the UK.
Officials believe the firm of solicitors at the centre of the inquiry was issuing false education certificates to them, which they would then use to “enrol” at one of four bogus colleges across London and fraudulently apply for student visas.
Only later did the break-out emerge. Four of the escapees were recaptured by police shortly after the alarm was raised at 4 am, including one, a Libyan with a criminal record, who was found eating tomatoes at the Botanical Gardens in Oxford. The other three remain on the run, Thames Valley Police said.
The break-out happened just five days after a fire at the 215-man Campsfield detention centre, during which around 20 detainees staged a rooftop protest.
There was a riot at the centre last December and 26 detainees escaped from the centre in a mass break-out months before.
Dominic Grieve, Shadow Home Secretary, said: “It is sadly appropriate that a serious and dangerous incident at an immigration detention centre should coincide with the Government's latest attempt at talking tough on immigration.
“Announcing yet another reorganisation of the UK Borders Agency and putting names on a website is no substitute for real action. Naming and shaming is no substitute for catching and convicting.
“All of this shows why we need an integrated Border Police Force bringing together the police with immigration and customs, to make our borders safer and the immigration system less chaotic.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “This is the fifth major disturbance at Campsfield in little over a year and the second in a week. It raises serious questions about the wisdom of mixing foreign national ex-prisoners with immigration detainees.
“The frequency of fires and escapes suggests there are significant problems with either the Home Office system or the management of Campsfield itself.”