Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor
Up to £1 billion of public money was spent last year on thousands of foreign criminals in the UK as hundreds living in the community – including dangerous offenders – went missing.
One in six – or 760 out of 4,200 – foreign national offenders (FNOs) living in the community have absconded, including 58 “high harm” individuals who have been missing since 2010, the Government’s spending watchdog has revealed.
In a shocking report, the National Audit Office (NAO) also found police are failing to conduct overseas criminal record checks on more than two thirds of arrested foreign nationals.
Serious concerns were recently raised over the effectiveness of police and border background checks following t he case of now-dead Arnis Zalkalns , the prime suspect in the murder of schoolgirl Alice Gross who had served seven years for killing his wife in his native Latvia.
Foreign prisoners have risen 4% from 10,231 to 10,649 since 2006, the NAO said, while removal numbers have fallen to 5,097 from a peak of 5,613 in 2008/09. This comes despite a 10-fold increase in the number of Home Office staff working on FNOs, from 100 to more than 900.
Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, who has long raised concerns about the number of foreigners in UK prisons and failures to deport them, said: “Most people will be staggered that despite increasing its staffing for deportations from 100 to 900, the Home Office is not actually deporting any more FNOs than it was before.
“The public will also be concerned that at any one time over 4,000 convicted FNOs are at large within our communities and that of these over 700 go missing.
“My view is that if you are a foreign national who commits a crime in the UK, you should be caught, convicted and sentenced with your sentence served back in your own country at the expense of your fellow nationals.
“If their countries won’t take them, then their embassies should be sent the bill. All such individuals should be banned from ever returning to our shores.”
There were 12,500 foreign national offenders in the country at the end of March this year, either in prison or living in the community pending removal from the country, the NAO said.
Public bodies are thought to have spent £850 million on foreign criminals, taken from an estimated range of between £770 million and £1 billion, which the NAO said equates to roughly £70,000 a year per criminal.
The Government has made “little progress” in dealing with FNOs since 2006, according to the spending watchdog, when the revelation that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released without consideration for deportation led to the resignation of the-then home secretary Charles Clarke.
Ministers did “relatively little” before December 2012 to tackle the problem of potential foreign criminals entering the UK, it said.
And despite the 2006 crisis, the NAO discovered that the Home Office does not hold records on the number of FNOs that were released without being considered for deportation before January 2009, after which it believes 151 FNOs were released without consideration.
Teams set up to manage FNOs are still using old technology with referrals from the Prison Service being sent to the Home Office by fax and manually entered into the records system, the watchdog found.
And at the border, the report shows the UK is also lagging behind its European counterparts in preventing foreign criminals from entering the country
Britain is one of four countries in the European Economic Area (EEA), of which there are 30 member states, not to sign up to the Schengen Information System, which uses warning alerts about foreign nationals.
Up to £70 million a year could be saved if such early opportunities to identify foreign national offenders were seized upon, the NAO said.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said the Government’s performance in reducing the number of foreign national prisoners continues to be “frustratingly poor”.
She said: “It beggars belief that the Home Office and Ministry of Justice are managing the removal of foreign national offenders without knowing basic costs and how best to target their resources.
“Government is not helping itself – continued use of outdated IT and too much reliance on form-filling mean that crucial checks and information gathering are not happening at the right time.
“Given its poor track record, Government will need to make huge strides to improve its management of foreign national offenders through its still-evolving 2013 cross-government action plan.”
In 2011, David Cameron pledged to deport more foreign nationals, revealing plans to remove those who are given indeterminate sentences as soon as they have served their minimum jail term.
David Hanson, shadow immigration minister, said: ” David Cameron made a commitment to reduce the number of foreign prisoners and to deport more of them, but yet again he has failed to deliver.
“This report shows the Home Office is simply not doing enough to crack down on removing foreign prisoners which would save the taxpayer £70 million each year. Once again the Prime Minister has broken his promise on immigration.
“The last Labour government made this a priority and increased the number of foreign prisoners removed.”
However, the NAO said it remains “difficult” to remove FNOs from the UK and efforts made by public bodies are “hampered” by barriers including human rights law and European Union rules on freedom of movement.
And in 2013, the National Security Council realised more could be done and ordered the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to step up efforts.
As as result, in June 2013, the three departments established the first overarching FNO strategy – the FNO action plan.
Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “Foreign nationals who fundamentally abuse our hospitality by committing crime should be in no doubt of our resolute approach in seeking their removal.
“The countless appeals and re-appeals lodged by criminals attempting to cheat the system cost us all money and are an affront to British justice. That is why we are putting a stop to that abuse through the Immigration Act.
“New powers came into force this week to cut the number of grounds on which criminals can appeal their deportation and to end the appeals conveyor belt in the courts. They will build on the measures we introduced in the summer which are already speeding up the deportation process.”
Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor