Key findings: Damning reports from ex-borders inspector released

Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana explains following David Neal's sacking as Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigrations. Words by Maya Bowles, ITV Westminster Producer

The Home Office released 13 reports by former Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Neal, on Thursday after he was sacked last week for leaking his reports to the media and putting sensitive information into the public domain.

Mr Neal said the Home Office had been too slow to publish the papers by his department, and that he had been fired in a Microsoft Teams call.

The leaked reports claimed UK Border Force failed to check hundreds of private jets arriving at London City airport. That report has not yet been published by the Home Office.

Mr Neal's reviews released on Thursday are scathing on a number of issues, including that Home Office data is often found to be "poor", that there's a "culture of defensiveness", and "poor communication" by the Home Office.

ITV News breaks down the most shocking findings from the 13 reports:

Border Force

Mr Neal's report on e-passport gates at airports found that "the protection of the border is neither effective nor efficient."

He said his inspectors observed border force officers "often distracted from their core operational activity", that there was "a lack of basic communication equipment", and that "deployment of resources was inconsisent".

"This is basic stuff that is not being done well," he wrote.

Asylum seeker children in hotels

Another report on conditions from asylum seeking children housed in hotels said “basic  bread-and-butter checks” are not being done - raising concerns around DBS checks on hotel staff.

A report by Mr Neal in 2022 found that staff in two hotels accommodating children seeking asylum hadn’t had DBS checks - Mr Neal said there wasn’t sufficient assurance this had been addressed in his most recent round of inspections.

He noted one hotel in which the staff would "make a game of" telling the children who would be next to leave for a placement - he says they would ask children to guess who would be next, before revealing their name.

Inspectors considered this to be insensitive in the extreme and undoubtedly upsetting to the children.

He was also critical of the fact that “more than two months on” from the High Court ruling the systematic accommodation of children seeking asylum in hotels was unlawful, “the hotels were still in use.”

Mr Neal also said “the Home Office did not have an exit strategy from the use of hotels”, until legal challenges were brought to challenge it.

Mr Neal's report did however say the children told his inspectors "they felt safe and happy in the hotels", but that "considering the journeys and life experiences" they have had, he was "not surprised".

He also addressed the issue of children going missing from hotels - and that there are 147 children who remain unaccounted for.

All hotels housing unaccompanied asylum seeking children have now been closed.

Withdrawn asylum claims

Mr Neal also expresses concern about the number of asylum claims being "withdrawn" by the Home Office.

The Home Office can withdraw an asylum application if a claimaint fails to meet certain requirements, like missing an interview or not returning a questionnaire in time.

According to data released on Thursday, the number of asylum claims withdrawn in 2023 had quadrupled - from 6,000 in 2022 to 25,600 in 2023.

Mr Neal said the government's "focus on clearing the legacy backlog 'at all costs' has led to perverse outcomes for claimants".

The report said "22 per cent of all decisions made since June 2022 were withdrawals, and, incredible, only one underwent formal quality assurance. This is not acceptable".

Afghan resettlement

In a report on the resettlement of Afghan refugees, Mr Neal says a lack of clear data meant Home Office had to resort to "contacting arrivals by phone to establish their immigration status", and that "the Home Office granted permission to stay to British citizens in error".

In response to Mr Neal's findings, the Home Office said the following:

- On Afghan resettlement: "Work has been implemented and completed to take forward the recommendations in this report to ensure that relevant changes are made, and the recommendations are incorporated into the operational approach of the Department."

- On airports: "We acknowledge that airport environments are complicated and sometimes factors beyond our immediate control can impact our processes, but our aim is to provide a professional and adaptable service which protects the public by providing a secure border, whilst facilitating legitimate travel and trade."

- On children in hotels: "In its formal response to the recommendations, the Home Office has given full consideration that all UASC hotels have now been closed.  The Home Office will however apply any findings from the report more broadly, if standing up hotels, when required on a short-term emergency basis in future and where applicable."

Dame Diana Johnson, the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, raised concerns about the the fact David Neal hasn't been replaced in his role - "The Home Office will really need to up its game if it is to ensure the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is restored to where it should be, if it is to be a crucial part of testing and developing the UK’s borders and immigration strategies.”

Mr Neal appeared at the Home Affairs Committee last week, telling MPs he was fired for “doing his job”.

“I think I’ve been sacked for doing what the law asks of me and I’ve breached, I’ve fallen down over a clause in my employment contract, which I think is a crying shame", Mr Neal told MPs.

More than 40 refugee charities including Freedom from Torture and the Refugee Council have written to the Home Secretary with concerns about how Mr Neal's sacking will affect the asylum system, saying it "creates a vacuum".

The letter points out that vital inspections into asylum accommodation including the Bibby Stockholm barge and the RAF Wethersfield site, as well as a report into the handling of modern slavery and human trafficking claims, cannot be submitted without an inspector.

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In written evidence sent to the committee, Mr Neal called for the watchdog role to have greater powers and more resources in order to fully scrutinise the work of the Home Office and hold its decisions to account.

Mr Neal also denied a suggestion by Home Secretary James Cleverly that he had been afforded the opportunity to reapply for his role, telling MPs that was “not the case”.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Mr Neal claimed the Home Office's handling of his reports was a “scandal and incredibly dangerous”.

Mr Neal's tenure as the independent borders watchdog was due to end on March 21 and he claimed No 10 had blocked his reappointment before he was ultimately fired.

Migration figures released on Thursday showed small boat arrivals were down 6 per cent compared to 2022, and that the government granted asylum to 62,336 people - the highest number since records began.

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