Steve Barclay Sidesteps Questions Over Legionella Discovery On Migrant Barge

The health secretary seemed to deny much involvement in the Bibby Stockholm incident.
The migrant barge, Bibby Stockholm, only housed migrants for four days last week.
The migrant barge, Bibby Stockholm, only housed migrants for four days last week.
Finnbarr Webster via Getty Images

Health secretary Steve Barclay has dodged questions over last week’s health scare when legionella bacteria was found on the Bibby Stockholm, saying it was a matter for the home office.

The migrant barge, which is meant to accommodate 500 people, was tested for legionella last week.

But, 39 male migrants were put on the boat before the results came back.

The results, made public on Friday, revealed that the bacteria was in the barge’s water supply, so the migrants were rapidly evacuated.

The home office has confirmed that none of the migrants have symptoms of Legionnaries’ Disease and it cannot be passed from person to person.

Still, it’s just the latest controversy to hit the government’s plan to reduce small boats crossing the English Channel.

Interviewing Barclay on Monday morning, BBC Breakfast host Sally Nugent asked: “When did you know there was a risk of legionella on the barge?”

He replied: “Ministers were made aware of that on Thursday evening, and obviously that’s been discussed with the council in terms of the importance of that information coming across quicker.”

But Nugent said Dorset council told a home office contractor on Monday night.

The council has also claimed a home office staff member was informed on Tuesday, although the government told Sky News there is no record of this conversation.

Barclay replied: “As health secretary, I wouldn’t be cited on whether someone in the home office had been notified or not, but I know in terms of home office ministers that they were notified on Thursday evening and took action on a precautionary basis.”

The BBC Breakfast host pushed: ″Don’t you think that feels like quite a long time, though?”

As Barclay again mentioned the home office, Nugent cut in: “Health is your brief, you would know how dangerous legionella is?”

“Say again, sorry,” Barclay said.

Nugent repeated herself, pointing out the long gap between the test for the bacteria and when people were evacuated from the barge.

The health secretary replied: “I absolutely recognise that it can be dangerous and that’s why, as a precautionary measure, people were moved off the barge as soon as ministers were aware.”

He added that health checks have been administered and there are “no concerns” for anyone on the barge.

“The steps were taken as a precautionary basis, it’s right therefore we have the checks, those were done at the end of July,” Barclay said.

Barclay told Sky News on Monday night that he now thinks people should be put back on the barge, because of the £6 million bill attached to hotels housing migrants.

He also said the number of crossings this year is lower than last year, with the French authorities saying they were stopping more crossings than they were previously.

According to home office data, in the first half of 2023, January to June, the number of small boat arrivals was down 10% to 11,434, compared to the same time frame last year.


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