Reid admits mistakes over foreign prisoners

John Reid admits he made mistakes in yesterday's statement on foreign prisoners row
John Reid admits he made mistakes in yesterday's statement on foreign prisoners row

A civil servant at the Home Office has been suspended after information on the foreign prisoners row was apparently withheld from the home secretary.

John Reid yesterday told the home affairs select committee that of the 1,019 foreign prisoners released without being considered for deportation, four murderers and 23 other serious offenders were now in prison.

Just 24 hours later, however, he has been forced to admit that this is not the case. In a letter to committee chairman John Denham today, he says that in fact one murderer, one rapist and one child sex offender are currently out on bail.

In a parallel letter to the Commons Speaker, Mr Reid says the bail hearings took place at an independent tribunal over the past ten days - a situation Mr Denham said this afternoon was "extraordinary".

"I've known ministers given bad briefs before, but I've never known on such a high profile issue for such important information to be kept from a minister," he told BBC News 24.

Although Mr Reid writes in his letter that he cannot hold his own officials responsible for a judicial decision, he says the situation which led to him misleading MPs both on the select committee and in a Commons written statement is unacceptable.

"To be put in the position where information was wrongly given to your committee - in spite of the caveats that I put around that information - is not acceptable and I apologise to you and your committee," the home secretary writes.

He adds: "Due to the seriousness of this matter, my permanent secretary and my director general of the IND have decided to take immediate management action to remove one senior civil servant from his current duties and to advance the plans to change significantly the duties of another."

A Home Office spokesman insisted that, like all other individuals detained for deportation, foreign prisoners have a right to appeal against that decision and to apply for bail at the asylum and immigration tribunal pending that hearing.

The official said the Home Office had opposed all the applications and would continue to do so "as vigorously as possible". Where bail is granted, Mr Reid has instructed officials to apply for the most stringent conditions possible.

But this explanation is unlikely to reduce the embarrassment of yet another mistake at a government department Mr Reid himself admitted yesterday was "not fit for purpose".

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said news of Mr Reid's mistake showed a "complete failure of the administration", adding: "This fiasco is going from bad to worse for the new home secretary."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg added: "This is a department which has been reduced to rubble by a prime minister obsessed with legislation, instead of good administration."

He called for the National Audit Office to come in "to find out what on earth is going on", adding: "It frankly beggars belief that four weeks after the initial revelations, the home secretary is still unable to provide the public with accurate facts and figures."


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