Immigration control at Welsh ports 'risks UK security'

Port of Holyhead
Image caption Holyhead has no permanent immigration controls, the report noted

Immigration control at some of Wales' ports is "limited" and jeopardising the UK's border security, says a watchdog.

The UK Border Agency's independent chief inspector found Holyhead seaport a high risk area for immigration offences.

John Vine recommended a comprehensive risk assessment at the Anglesey port and other smaller ports in Wales.

Responding to the report the UK Border Agency said staffing and security at Holyhead had been intensified.

The office of the independent chief inspector was created in 2007 to ensure the UK's immigration and nationality services are working effectively.

Mr Vine's report represents the first comprehensive inspection of the UK Border Agency's regional operations within the UK.

Cardiff, Bristol, Holyhead and Plymouth ports were inspected, along with enforcement operations in Bristol and Cardiff.

Mr Vine found that Holyhead seaport is recognised by the UK Border Agency as a high risk area for immigration offenders entering the country illegally.

He said this brought into question the current level of security of the UK border.

However the port has no permanent immigration controls as, like other Welsh ports, all passengers arrive from the common travel area, which allows for free movement between Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

The report said UK Border Agency staff in the region were seen to act in a polite and respectful manner when dealing with customers and displayed resilience and professionalism in the face of difficult tasks.

But there was an overall perception among staff that change was not managed well and staff had raised concerns about the quality of leadership in the region.

Office accommodation at Plymouth and Holyhead seaports was found to be inadequate.

And the chief inspector found several serious issues which did not appear to conform with health and safety regulations.

'Quality of leadership'

He has recommended that staff at these seaports are provided with adequate, safe accommodation without delay.

Mr Vine, a former chief constable of Tayside Police, said: "A significant number of staff criticised the quality of leadership and management in the region and such was the consistency and strength of feeling that I have asked the UK Border Agency to specifically address staff concerns."

He said he had been impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment demonstrated by staff in the Wales and south west region.

But he added that he was concerned that some staff were expected to work in "completely unsatisfactory" accommodation.

In response to the report Immigration Minister Damian Green said the UK government was committed to creating a dedicated border police force to enhance national security, improve immigration controls and crack down on trafficking of people, weapons and drugs.

"The agency has already started to address the issues raised by the inspector's report and is committed to continuing intelligence-led checks on all people and goods entering the UK via Welsh ports," he said.

With regard to the situation at Holyhead a UK Border Agency spokesman said: "The right for law-abiding citizens to move freely between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom is something the new government wishes to safeguard.

"The agency has already taken steps to increase staff levels at Holyhead to intensify intelligence-led checks on people and goods entering the UK via Welsh ports, in addition to the controls already carried out by the Irish authorities.

"In the meantime, staff from other areas of the UK are being used to protect the border there."

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