Bibby Stockholm: Contractors told of Legionella on day asylum seekers boarded barge

The Bibby Stockholm barge is now empty following the discovery of the potentially lethal bacteria. Credit: PA

Home Office contractors were told about traces of Legionella bacteria found on the Bibby Stockholm on the same day asylum seekers were transferred on to the barge, Dorset Council has said.

The discovery eventually led to the removal of all 39 people who had moved onto the barge on Friday 11 August.

It is understood some of the asylum seekers are now staying at a hotel in Devon.

ITV News has spoken to several of the migrants who say one or two of them have sore throats or coughs. They do not yet know what has caused them.

It comes after Dorset Council said it informed the “responsible organisations” - barge operators CTM and Landry & Kling - about the preliminary test results on Monday 7 August, the same day it received them.

The council says a Home Office official was then told about the discovery on Tuesday 8 August.

However Home Secretary Steve Barclay has insisted ministers were only informed about the traces of bacteria on Thursday 10 August and "took very quick action".

Asked about claims the Home Office was informed about test results which discovered the bacteria on Tuesday, the Health Secretary told Sky News: “This is a standard thing the council had done. There is no reason to suggest there were concerns. As a precaution the tests were done.

“As soon as ministers were notified on Thursday night, there were some concerns with that, they took instant action.”

He added: “It may be the council notified the Home Office, that is an issue for those in the Home Office to respond to, obviously this is a Home Office lead.

“My understanding from colleagues in the Home Office is it was notified to Home Office ministers on Thursday and they then took very quick action as a result.”

On Friday, 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 the bacteria requiring further investigation.

People thought to be asylum seekers boarding the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge on Monday. Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

A council spokesperson said: “To be clear, it was not Dorset Council’s responsibility to inform the Home Office – that responsibility sat with CTM and Landry & King, the companies contracted by the Home Office to operate the barge."

The Home Office did not comment on the statement, first reported by The Telegraph.

CTM and Landry & Kling have also been contacted for comment.

The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) was alerted on Wednesday evening to concerns about potential health risks and guidance was sought by the council.

The full timeline remains unclear and the council has not yet said whether it told contractors before or after the transfer of migrants on to the barge.

It comes after 509 more people crossed the English Channel in 10 boats on Saturday, with one journey resulting in the deaths of six people when a vessel sank off the coast of France.

A Cabinet minister defended the Government’s immigration strategy on Sunday amid renewed pressure, including from Tory MPs, over its “stop the boats” pledge following the fatal incident.

The Government was accused of allowing its “small boats week” of linked announcements on immigration to descend into chaos following the Bibby Stockholm evacuation.

Senior Conservative backbencher David Davis said the “startling incompetence” of the Home Office had been laid bare, while former party chairman Sir Jake Berry described the removals as “farcical”.

However, ministers are understood to be intending to push on with plans to hire more barges to house asylum seekers, as well as student halls and former office blocks.

The people who had been on the Bibby Stockholm, which had been billed as a cheaper alternative to expensive hotels for those awaiting the outcome of their claims, are now back being housed in other accommodations.

The facilities on the Bibby Stockholm. Credit: PA

Mr Davies on Sunday defended the Government’s handling of the situation, saying it “actually demonstrates how we’re putting the safety of people first”.

Asked whether the incident points to a wider failure within the Home Office, he told Times Radio: “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. The checks were being made.”

But shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said a “better, fairer system” is needed to tackle the backlog of asylum applications and cut the need for temporary accommodation.

She told the same programme that prosecutions of people smugglers are “falling” under the current Government.

The Home Office has said the health and welfare of asylum seekers “remains of the utmost priority” and that the evacuation took place as a precautionary measure, with all protocol and advice followed.

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