Home Office faces scrutiny after finding bacteria and moving asylum seekers off Bibby Stockholm

Legionella bacteria was found in the water supply on Bibby Stockholm. Credit: PA

The Home Office is facing mounting pressure to answer questions surrounding the removal of asylum seekers from the Bibby Stockholm barge following the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.

Conservative backbenchers have accused the department of “incompetence” after the 39 people who had boarded the vessel were transferred to alternative accommodation on Friday evening.

Meanwhile, shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock wrote to his opposite number on Saturday asking what the Home Office knew about the risk of the bacteria being present before moving migrants onto the barge.

The department said all 39 of those on board had been disembarked as a “precautionary measure” after samples from the water system showed levels of Legionella requiring further investigation.

Suella Braverman reportedly told Rishi Sunak she was concerned about inviting more migrants to the UK Credit: Phil Noble/PA

The Home Office said no migrants have fallen sick or developed Legionnaires’ disease, which is a serious type of pneumonia, and that they are all being provided with “appropriate advice and support”.

Department officials are understood to have been told by Dorset Council on Wednesday evening about the discovery of initial results indicating that the bacteria was present, but the transfer of a further six migrants on to the barge still went ahead on Thursday.

Government sources said the UK Health Security Agency then told ministers on Thursday that Legionella had been found in the vessel’s water system and advised them that they needed to remove those six migrants.

With a capacity of more than 500, the Government hopes that the use of the Bibby Stockholm will help cut the £6 million a day currently being spent on hotel bills for asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their applications.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has been urged by Mr Kinnock to answer a series of questions about the “extremely troubling matter” of the evacuation.

“This whole sorry affair is yet another shambolic example of the chaos, incompetence and confusion that have come to define the way in which this Government is dealing with the asylum crisis that it has created,” the shadow minister wrote .

“Why should the British public trust you to deal effectively with this mess when every measure you announce either fails to deliver, never gets off the ground, or just makes everything worse?”

Mr Kinnock later tweeted: “Has anyone seen Suella Braverman?”

It is understood Mr Kinnock’s letter has been received and that a response will be provided, though it is unclear when this will be.

Those who were on board are currently undergoing health checks with medical staff, Government sources said.

If inhaled, Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a type of severe pneumonia.

It can grow in man-made water systems, particularly if the plumbing has not been used in months.

Public health expert Professor Paul Hunter said the bacteria would have been an obvious risk to test for before moving people on to the barge.

He said it was possible those on board could have been exposed to Legionella if they took a shower because this can generate a mist of the bacteria which can be inhaled, although the Home Office has said no one has fallen ill.

“Certainly if we… had had a (hospital) ward that had not been open for a number of weeks and the water was still in the pipes, we would check that before we actually started moving patients into that ward, and this didn’t seem to happen. This is very concerning,” Prof Hunter told Today.

The Home Office said: “The health and welfare of asylum seekers remains of the utmost priority.

“The Home Office and our contractors are following all protocol and advice from Dorset Council’s Environmental Health team, UK Health Security Agency and Dorset NHS who we are working closely with.”

It comes after 755 people crossed the English Channel in small boats on Thursday, the highest daily number so far this year, confirming the total since 2018 has passed 100,000.

Since current records began on January 1 2018, 100,715 migrants have arrived in the UK after making the journey, according to analysis of Government data.

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