Gideon Long, Reuters, April 25, 2006
LONDON — The government said on Tuesday it had freed over 1,000 foreign prisoners, including murderers, rapists and paedophiles, who should have been considered for deportation at the time of their release.
In a major embarrassment to the government Prime Minister Tony Blair ahead of local elections next week, the Home Office said it had no idea where the vast majority of the 1,023 convicted criminals were.
They were released over the past seven years and only a handful of them had been traced.
“I think it is a shocking state of affairs,” Home Secretary Charles Clarke said. “The concern, possibly anger, that people will feel is entirely understandable.”
The revelation will come as a severe blow to Blair’s government which says it is tackling crime and has pledged to deport foreigners it regards as a threat to national security.
It is likely to play into the hands of the opposition Conservative Party as well as the fringe far-right British National Party (BNP), campaigning on an anti-immigration ticket for the vote on Thursday next week.
The BNP is expected to make gains in the ballot, the first electoral test for Blair since he won a third term in office.
The prime minister’s standing appears to be on the wane. A poll published on Tuesday showed support for his Labour party has slipped to a 19-year low and Blair himself has said he will not seek a fourth term.
The 1,023 prisoners had all served their terms and were entitled to release, but should have been considered for deportation before they were freed.
Around 160 of them were subject to specific orders from courts which recommended their removal from Britain.
The prisoners included three murderers, two found guilty of manslaughter, nine rapists, and 12 sex offenders including five paedophiles. Others were jailed for kidnapping, assault and drug and immigration offences.