SHAMBOLIC AND INDEFENSIBLE; the Home Office Is Not Fit for Purpose. It Is Inadequate in Terms of Its Scope, Its Information Technology, Leadership, Management, Systems and Processes

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Byline: JAMES SLACK

HOME Secretary John Reid unleashed an unprecedented attack on his own department yesterday after it emerged that thousands more foreign criminals may have been mistakenly freed.

He declared the Home Office 'not fit for purpose' and threatened to sack the civil servants to blame for the fiasco.

He told MPs at least 200 new crimes had been committed by the 1,000 foreign criminals the Government had previously admitted to mistakenly setting free.

But he then admitted the true scale of the blunder is likely to be much worse.

So far it has been confined to criminals who immigration officials failed to consider for deportation.

Now it has emerged thousands more cases may have been overlooked by prison officers, who were not told convicts from overseas should be referred for deportation even if it was not ordered by the trial judge.

Hundreds are likely to have walked free every year because of the blunder.

Officials have no idea where they are, or how many new crimes they have committed.

Mr Reid adopted a tactic of brutal honesty as he faced the Commons home affairs committee. Rather than trying to defend the department - or his predecessor Charles Clarke - he declared the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) 'not fit for purpose'.

Trying to defend its record some of the time would be to 'defend the indefensible'.

He said statistics provided by his officials must carry a 'health warning'.

They are unreliable and prone to change within 24 hours, he said.

His astonishing blast came as Government figures revealed: * Almost 400,000 Eastern Europeans have registered to work in Britain since EU expansion in 2004, making a mockery of claims it would be only 13,000 a year.

* At current rates, it will take 108 years to clear the backlog of failed asylum seekers in the UK.

* A record 161,789 British passports were handed out to foreigners last year, taking the total to 830,000 since 1998. From the outset of his session before the committee Mr Reid showed a willingness to demolish any shred of credibility the IND had left.

He said: 'Our system is not fit for purpose. It is inadequate in terms of its scope, it is inadequate in terms of its information technology, leadership, management, systems and processes.' He expressed anger over the information handed to him by officials, saying: 'I don't remember a figure over the last fortnight that hasn't been revised very quickly.' And on illegal immigration he said: 'I'm almost always defending the indefensible here. Nothing less than a full and fundamental overhaul of this department will be sufficient.' 'We are in a state of transition '' They will bear responsibility' from a paper-based system that was not designed for the problems we are facing towards a technologicallybased system that seems to be on a horizon that never gets any nearer.' He said he shared the frustrations of the public at the failings that had been exposed, such as the foreign prisoner scandal and the revelation that illegal workers were employed as cleaners by the immigration service. …