INDEPENDENT 2024-02-20 22:33:53

Home Office sacks immigration chief after claims of border failings

The Home Office has sacked the independent chief inspector for borders and immigration after he criticised the UK Border Force over alleged security failings.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the independent chief inspector, David Neal, had “breached the terms of appointment and lost the confidence of the home secretary”. They added that the planned recruitment process for his replacement was underway.

Mr Neal warned on Tuesday of “dangerous” failings by border force that he claimed were allowing “high-risk” aircraft to land in Britain without security checks.

He said that checks were not being carried out on hundreds of private jets arriving at London City airport. He said that the lapse in security risked organised criminals being able to bring gang members and contraband into the country. Foreign nationals with no right to enter the UK may also have been smuggled in, he said.

He told the Daily Mail: “This is a scandal, and incredibly dangerous for this country’s border security. There should now be a rapid independent inspection of general aviation across the country.”

The Home Office had “categorically rejected” the claims, saying that Mr Neal “has chosen to put misleading data into the public domain”. They said there was a specific issue with the way data was recorded at London City airport, which meant high-risk flights should have been classified as low-risk.

Mr Neal was informed on Tuesday that his appointment would be immediately terminated. His term was due to end on 21 March 2024.

Mr Neal had also spoken publicly about abuse of the care worker visa on Monday, revealing that the Home Office had issued 275 visas to a care home that did not exist.

He has submitted 14 reports to the Home Office but they remain unpublished, according to the government website. Despite his role as an independent inspector, the Home Office has power over when the reports are made public.

Mr Neal’s reappointment as chief inspector of borders and immigration had already been blocked despite his predecessors serving two full three-year terms in post.

He recently expressed concerns that the Home Office had not yet found a replacement, meaning that there will likely be no independent inspector as ministers try to force through their controversial Rwanda policy.

Mr Neal had said it was “scandalous that such a critical position at a time of such importance for the country is being left vacant”.

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s shadow home secretary, responding to news that the government had sacked the chief inspector for borders and immigration, said: “This is total Tory chaos on borders and immigration.

“A series of conservative home secretaries have sought to bury uncomfortable truths revealed by the chief inspector about our broken borders, and shockingly they are still sitting on 15 unpublished reports – stretching back to April last year. The home secretary must now publish those reports in full.

“The conservatives have lost control of our borders, are seeking to hide the truth, and are putting border security at risk.”

Ms Cooper’s office is understood to be including the inspector’s annual report in the total number of unpublished reports.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP called on the government to “publish these reports without delay”, saying ministers were “terrified of proper scrutiny”.

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP and member of the home affairs committee, said: “David Neal did a diligent job holding the Home Office to account, but various home secretaries repeatedly failed to respond to his reports or take on his recommendations.”

MP told Ben Wallace ‘something stinks’ after probing SAS Afghan deaths

A minister repeatedly raised concerns about potential war crimes committed by UK special forces in Afghanistan with senior figures within the Ministry of Defence – telling Ben Wallace “something stinks” – and was unable to disprove an alleged cover-up of killings when he investigated.

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer was speaking to an inquiry into dozens of killings of Afghan civilians by the SAS between 2010 and 2013. He told the inquiry on Tuesday that he did not want to believe reports that the elite British soldiers had killed unarmed Afghans, but he was “unable” to find “something to disprove these allegations”.

He said that when he investigated the matter with the senior figures within UK special forces (UKSF) they were “unable to answer basic questions” and he “did not believe them”.

When he was a junior minister in the Ministry of Defence from 2019, Mr Mercer raised concerns about rumours of potential UKSF crimes with the director of judicial engagement policy with the MoD, Peter Ryan, the chief of defence staff, Nick Carter, and the secretary of state for defence Ben Wallace.

He said that the chief of defence staff and the secretary of defence tasked him with “getting to the bottom of it”.

Mr Mercer told the independent investigation he was aware of allegations against a special forces unit, known to the inquiry as UKSF1, from as far back as 2009.

When he tried to investigate the claims during his time as a junior minister, he found that there was a “lack of professional curiosity to get to the bottom of it”.

The director of special forces and the chief of general staff also assured Mr Mercer that the allegations were untrue, the veterans minister told the inquiry.

He said the director of special forces “did not have the professional curiosity that I expected him to have”. He said he became concerned about why senior figures within the MoD could not provide evidence to disprove the allegations.

Members of UKSF have been accused of killing unarmed Afghans, planting weapons on them, falsifying reports and then covering up the crimes.

Mr Mercer then told Mr Wallace that he “did not believe” the director of special forces and the chief of general staff, telling him: “Something stinks”.

He added: “I was very clear that there should be something to refute these allegations, just something. The absence of anything is what pricks your conscience.”

Mr Mercer said he was also told that there was no full motion video available of certain special forces operations that were under investigation. This was something that was “not plausible” because operations had to be recorded on full motion video, Mr Mercer said.

The veterans minister raised his concerns about the lack of video records to Mr Wallace and the director of special forces, the inquiry heard. Mr Wallace “repeatedly told me there was no new evidence”, Mr Mercer added.

The inquiry will examine whether special forces had a policy of executing males of “fighting age” who posed no threat in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013.

Afghan families have accused UK special forces of conducting a “campaign of murder” against civilians, while senior officers and personnel at the MoD “sought to prevent adequate investigation”.

Tessa Gregory, lawyer on behalf of the Afghan families, said: “Today we have learned that, whilst the secretary of state for defence was telling the court in proceedings brought by our clients that there was nothing to see, a serving minister was raising allegations of the gravest nature.

“The bereaved families urge all those with relevant information to come forward to assist the inquiry in ascertaining the truth.”

No charges were brought under Operation Northmoor – which was set up in 2014 to examine allegations of executions by special forces, including those of children.

A further RMP investigation, codenamed Operation Cestro, saw three soldiers referred to the Service Prosecuting Authority, but none of them were prosecuted.

The inquiry continues.

CCTV shows moment missing toddler fell into water as police step up search

Police searching for a toddler in a river in Leicestershire have revealed they have obtained CCTV officers believe shows the moment the boy fell into the water.

The two-year-old boy has been missing since Sunday evening after he fell into the River Soar as his father was rushed to hospital. He has since been released.

Assistant chief constable Michaela Kerr, of Leicestershire Police, has also said the search for the toddler has been stepped up with Kent and West Mercia Police Search and Rescue team and the Metropolitan Police Marine Recovery dogs joining the operation.

The force gave an update on Tuesday lunchtime ahead of a briefing from the scene.

Emergency services attended the scene just after 5pm and a search and rescue operation, which involves officers from Leicestershire, Nottingham, Lincolnshire and Met police forces, began in Aylestone Meadows, close to Marsden Lane.

In their appeal on Monday night, they requested that members of the public who had spoken to officers come forward again, and that a dog walker who was seen walking along the towpath make contact with the police.

The father, who was taken to hospital as a as a precautionary measure, was believed to have followed the boy into the river.

Major incident declared in Plymouth after suspected WW2 bomb found

A major incident has been declared after what is thought to be a Second World War bomb was found in a garden in Plymouth.

Devon and Cornwall Police rushed to establish a 200-metre cordon around the garden on St Michael Avenue after they were called to the address on Tuesday morning.

Officers were working to evacuate nearby homes as a specialist disposal team worked on the explosive device, according to police.

“A 200-metre cordon has been put in place and officers are speaking to residents and assisting with the evacuation of properties within that cordon,” a police spokesperson said.

“The Royal Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal are currently at the scene. People are advised to avoid the area where possible.”

The man who discovered the bomb told Plymouth Live he was helping prepare the groundwork in the back garden of his daughter’s property for an extension when he found it.

One resident told the same publication: “We’ve been told to leave our homes – all the residents in St Aubyn Avenue. Police are out knocking on doors telling people there’s been a bomb found. They’ve closed off the lane behind our road. Apparently it’s an old Second World War bomb.”

Devonport Local Policing Team said anyone that needs shelter following the evacuation can visit North Prospect Library.

It said: “Officers are working hard to keep you safe. Anyone needing shelter following evacuation advice can get it at North Prospect Library”.

Trump ‘needs Putin’s help and can’t risk angering him’, Cheney says

Former House Republican Conference chair and ex-Wyoming Rep Liz Cheney has said that former President Donald Trump appears to believe that he’ll need the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin at some point.

Ms Cheney noted on X on Monday afternoon that “Donald Trump still won’t condemn the [Aleksei] Navalny killing or blame Putin. At the same time, Trump is claiming Putin-style tyrannical immunity in his US Supreme Court briefs”.

She added that it “seems like Trump thinks he needs Putin’s help with something and can’t risk angering him”.

On Monday morning, Mr Trump mentioned the death of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in a Siberian prison camp, but he didn’t mention Mr Putin.

“The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country,” Mr Trump wrote on Truth Social. “It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction. Open Borders, Rigged Elections, and Grossly Unfair Courtroom Decisions are DESTROYING AMERICA. WE ARE A NATION IN DECLINE, A FAILING NATION! MAGA2024”

Ms Cheney, 57, was on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday warning of the Putin wing possibly coming back to the White House in the form of the former president.

She also criticized Mr Trump for his recent comments saying that he wouldn’t protect Nato countries who don’t pay their fair share, recounting how he told a fellow world leader that he would urge Russia to do “whatever the hell they want”.

“I think that we have to take Donald Trump very seriously,” Ms Cheney said on Sunday. “We have to take seriously the extent to which you have now got a Putin wing of the Republican Party.”

“I believe the issue this election cycle is making sure the Putin wing of the Republican Party does not take over the West Wing of the White House,” she added.

Speaking to anchor Jake Tapper, Ms Cheney said: “Donald Trump, as you pointed out, said just a few days ago that he had told a Nato ally that he would encourage Putin to do whatever he needed to do, whatever he wanted to do.”

“He’s basically made clear that under a Trump administration, the United States is unlikely to keep its Nato commitments. And I think that Republicans who understand the importance of the national security situation who continue to support him are similarly going to be held to account,” she added.

Calling Mr Trump’s comments on Nato “disgraceful”, Ms Cheney said, “I can’t imagine any other American president of either party since the establishment of Nato saying such a thing. And it’s completely uninformed and ignorant and dangerous”.

“When you think about Donald Trump, for example, pledging retribution, what Vladimir Putin did to Navalny is what retribution looks like in a country where the leader is not subject to the rule of law,” she noted.

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

Stop the blame games and put the Post Office scandal victims first

A new drama is being staged at the Westminster Palace of Varieties, which we may call “Ms Badenoch vs the Post Office (Chairman)”. It is likely to play out for a few days at least, and will – for those who follow these political dramas closely – be entertaining.

Kemi Badenoch, the combative business secretary, is never short of self-confidence but some observers wonder if the pretty flat assertions she’s made in the Commons about the former chair of the Post Office, Henry Staunton, might have been a little rash.

She sacked Mr Staunton only three weeks ago, and her decision continues to be controversial, not least so far as Mr Staunton is concerned. He has had a distinguished career in business and does not accept Ms Badenoch’s reasons for dismissing him, nor the way in which it was done. She, in response, accuses him of spreading falsehoods – a serious allegation, made via social media and amplified under parliamentary privilege in the Commons.

What does the SNP’s motion and vote on Gaza mean for Labour?

Since the Hamas atrocities in Israel on 7 October and the war that followed, the Labour Party has found itself in a series of dilemmas about what its policy on the conflict should be. The need to recognise Israel’s right to defend itself and condemn terror has had to be reconciled increasingly uneasily with Israel’s response – one that has led to the charge of genocide being considered at the International Court of Justice.

Some Muslim Labour supporters, including MPs, councillors and candidates, have found Keir Starmer’s past reluctance to call for an immediate ceasefire difficult to accept, and many others, not just on the left, share that view. In trying to root out antisemitism in his party as well as resist Islamophobia, he has found himself losing two of his party’s parliamentary candidates.

Now the SNP, Labour’s main rival north of the border, has tabled another Commons motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, with a debate and vote on Wednesday. Starmer has had to react – and hold his party together…