UK Border Agency Leaked Emails Show Passport Checks Relaxed 'Hundreds Of Times'

15/11/2011 07:49 | Updated 14 January 2012

Border checks were relaxed hundreds of times at UK ports under a pilot scheme authorised by Home Secretary Theresa May this summer, according to figures.

Fresh evidence released by Labour also showed that passengers on private jets were let into the UK without even being seen by border officials.

The latest disclosures will put further pressure on the under-fire Home Secretary as the former head of the UK Border Force, who quit his post over the border checks row, prepares to be questioned by MPs on Tuesday.

Brodie Clark, 60, who resigned last week after a 40-year career in the Home Office, is expected to say he only acted to relax border checks because he was required to do so by the police to prevent overcrowding.

Leaked emails between UK Border Agency (UKBA) officials showed the controls were eased a total of 260 times in one week alone this summer.

Other leaked documents showed passengers on private jets were able to enter the UK without being seen by border officials, raising fears among staff that security was being compromised. Government estimates show there are between 80,000 and 90,000 private jet flights every year.

One UKBA official complained to managers about not even being "allowed to physically see the passengers", saying it was "at odds with national policy" and "is creating an unnecessary gap in border security", the emails showed.

Further leaked emails showed Mrs May's pilot scheme to relax border controls - referred to as level two checks - was used 260 times in the sixth week of the trial, the week ending September 16. This compared with 100 times in its first week and 165 in week nine, ending October 9.

Mr Clark has denied extending the scheme improperly and accused Mrs May of blaming him for "political convenience" last week, saying her comments were "wrong". He resigned to pursue a case of constructive dismissal which could lead to a payout of up to £135,000 after Mrs May was accused of hanging him out to dry over the controversy.

A UKBA spokeswoman said: "It is not true that we don't carry out passport and warnings index checks on private flight passengers and will deploy officers to airfields where we have concerns."

15/11/2011 14:18 GMT

So what do we know?

Well it's May's word against Clarke's for now. Pressure is likely to build on the government to disclose the emails and other documents which led to Brodie Clark's resignation, something it appears reluctant to do.

What's clear is that Brodie Clark, a prominent lifelong civil servant, is questioning the Home Secretary's integrity and competence.

For the Home Affairs committee, the challenge will be to get to the documents that prove or disprove what Clark has told them today. They seem determined to do this.

15/11/2011 13:39 GMT

What can be disclosed?

Minutes of meeting with Brodie Clark appear to be unavailable to the committee, as well as Brodie Clark's 'admission' email. They are going to an internal investigation by John Vine.

The committee seems unlikely to take this lying down. Nor will Labour.

15/11/2011 13:37 GMT

The UK Border Force operations manual has vanished.....

...from the UKBA's website

Tory MP Mark Reckless wants to know why. Rob Whiteman didn't even know it had happened.

15/11/2011 13:36 GMT

And from William Hill

THERESA MAY has been slashed from 9/4 to 6/4 by William Hill to cease to be Home Secretary by the end of the year – and she has also been cut from 3/1 to 6/4 favourite to be the next Minister to leave the Cabinet. ‘Ms May’s long term prospects have not been helped at all by Brodie Clark’s comments today’ said Hill’s spokesman Graham Sharpe.

Meanwhile, Hills have opened a market on who will succeed Theresa May as Home Secretary and have installed Michael Gove as 6/4 favourite.

15/11/2011 13:34 GMT

Labour are continuing to put the boot in. Yvette Cooper just released this statement:

“At the same time as the Government admits it is so out of touch that Ministers don't know what is happening on our borders, we now learn the Home Office is publishing misleading statistics to keep the voters in the dark too.

“There needs to be an urgent investigation by the Cabinet Secretary into whether there has been a breach of the Ministerial Code by either Damian Green or Theresa May.

“Sir Michael’s letter is incredibly serious and brings into question the ‘highly selective’ use of statistics by Ministers. He says the fact and manner of the release ‘was irregular and inconsistent with the statutory Code of Practice and also with the Ministerial Code.’

“As he says in his letter, Ministers should 'bring forward publication of the official statistics to the earliest date possible'. We think the Government should publish its evaluation of the so-called 'pilot' now, so the public and Parliament can judge what the Home Secretary has done.

“While Ministers continue to obfuscate, real damage is being done to public confidence in what the Government is saying.”

15/11/2011 13:32 GMT

Whiteman: I discussed, not suggested retirement

Rob Whiteman very, very fuzzy on the details here. He says be didn't suggest Clark retire, but that it was discussed, but that Clarke didn't suggest retirement either.

Whiteman seems either unable or unwilling to outline exactly how these discussions panned out and MPs have given up asking.

15/11/2011 13:28 GMT

Whiteman: "Suspension is a neutral act"

" I did not suspend him lightly, but it was absolutely clear to me that ministers wanted fingerprint checks to be taken, and that had not been put into effect."

15/11/2011 13:19 GMT

My very clear recollection was that I did not suggest Brodie Clark retire, I only offered it to him.

When challenged with Clark's comments that Whiteman offered the retirement, Whiteman says: "That is not my recollection."

15/11/2011 13:16 GMT

Guido writes...

@ GuidoFawkes :

May Day: No let up for Theresa May. Brodie Clark helpfully bought a big bucket and a hand-held fan to his appear... http://t.co/4VpXQzGQ

15/11/2011 13:11 GMT

Whiteman: Clarke's retirement package 'not formal'

Whiteman says after discussions with home office HR people, they decided not to offer the package after all. This apparently was vetoed by the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office.

Keith Vaz: Is that normal, for the most senior civil servant to veto like this?

Whiteman: It is.

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