Consular staff ‘rude, incompetent’


Published: Sunday 23rd November 2014 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

Relatives of Britons who died abroad have lashed out at rudeness, incompetence and insensitivity by Foreign Office staff.

An inquiry by a cross-party group of MPs heard complaints that officials gave the impression bereavements were “insignificant”, failed to dress appropriately for meetings, and lacked discretion.

The criticisms emerged as the Foreign Affairs Committee raised concerns about the impact of budget curbs on the consular service, which have seen staffing levels halved.

Although the Foreign Office now stressed the limits of its role and importance of “self help”, services were still sometimes falling short of what the public could “legitimately expect”.

The family of a teacher murdered in Havana in March 2012 told the committee that handling had been “wholly incompetent”.

“We had an expectation that in such a time of crisis there would be an infrastructure of solid support, with efficient robust consular assistance,” they wrote. “This was not the case. The FCO (Foreign Office) added significantly to the trauma and confusion.”

Karen Walchester said when her son was found dead in Tenerife there was “no one to take responsibility for care of a broken hearted family trying to muddle through a chaotic system whilst in terrible grief and confusion”.

Jeanette Rooney said her mother had been found dead in France. “I feel that at times that certain diplomats I have dealt with were rude,” she wrote. “I felt like a nuisance calling to ask for information. I felt that certain diplomats did not do their job to the full potential, they didn’t chase up the French authorities on a regular basis.

“At times I was waiting weeks for replies to my questions which caused me a massive amount of stress on top of my loss.”

One anonymous member of the public said their partner had been killed in the plane crash in Nepal in September 2012. “The Ambassador did not meet me (despite having said on TV that they would do everything to help),” they wrote. “One of his juniors did. They arrived in shorts and T-shirts. They hadn’t even been to visit the crash site. When I asked why not they explained that it was because of ‘staff cuts’.”

The committee concluded that standards were being applied “inconsistently” by consular staff, resulting in “some exemplary experiences and some poor ones for families who are already going through a deeply traumatic time”.

“We do not suggest that this is the fault of uncaring staff, but rather inexperience in handling cases of bereavement, time pressures, other competing priorities, and potentially a lack of training,” the report added.

It suggested a central unit should be established to co-ordinate responses to deaths abroad. The MPs also raised concerns that consuls were now 90% staffed by locals. They suggested the proportion should be 20% to avoid a future situation where top Foreign Office mandarins had no consular experience.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The committee’s report recognises the high level of consular support staff provide to thousands of British nationals in distress overseas every year and the improvements we have already made.

“This is a priority for the Foreign Office. We have worked hard to improve our service and will continue to do so. This report will play an important role in this. We will consider the recommendations carefully and respond fully in due course.

“Some of the issues that the committee has identified, including our response to tragic murders abroad, are areas that we are already working to improve and we will consider the points that they have made.”

Published: Sunday 23rd November 2014 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

Local business search