John Reid, the new home secretary, is facing a fresh crisis over foreign criminals after a senior immigration official revealed that more than half of the 1,023 released in error will remain at liberty on the streets of Britain.
The official, a senior figure with the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality directorate (IND), disclosed that not one of the 1,023 has so far been forcibly deported.
As the fallout from the fiasco that led to the sacking of Reid’s predecessor, Charles Clarke, continued this weekend, the official said that the criminals would never be sent back because their home countries, such as Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria and Sierre Leone were considered “too dangerous”.
“In about 60% of these cases we are never going to get rid of them . . . They are simply not going to go,” said the official.
The disclosure undermines claims by Tony Blair that ministers have now sorted out the weaknesses in the system. The prime minister told MPs last week that the system for deporting prisoners was “now working” and the “presumption” would be that all foreign criminals would “automatically” be deported.
But human rights lawyers and IND sources, who asked not to be named, said the promise was effectively meaningless because many countries were either deemed too dangerous or would refuse to accept the returnees.
Clarke was ousted from the Home Office after his own officials failed to “close down” the row over the convicts. One of the most damaging revelations was that a freed prisoner had allegedly shot dead Bradford PC Sharon Beshenivsky in November last year.
In a separate case, it emerged this weekend that another freed foreign prisoner had allegedly injured a police officer. The man was allowed to stay in the country despite convictions for burglary and possession of crack cocaine.
Immigration officers have cast doubt on the nationwide “dragnet” for foreign criminals. One insider said: “This big police and IND operation is simply not happening. It’s all a bit of a joke.”
David Davis, shadow home secretary, said: “Every day that passes reveals another fatal flaw in the system that is supposed to protect public safety. These failures will require root and branch reform of the treatment of foreign criminals.”