Wasteful British immigration control

British Border staff search white air passengers to 'even up racial mix' -- at a time when the border agency is seriously understaffed and many passengers are let through without basic checks

White air passengers are routinely stopped and searched by customs officials simply to ensure the right racial ‘mix’ of travellers are being approached, a report reveals today.

It found staff searching for illegal goods at Gatwick Airport selected white passengers to balance the numbers against black and other ethnic minorities they suspected to help avoid race discrimination complaints.

Details of the practice are exposed in one of two highly critical reports by John Vine, chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, who said it was unlawful and must stop.

The second, criticising Heathrow Terminal 3, raised concerns about queues at the borders and found staff were allowed to clock off at some of the busiest times, resulting in long delays for passengers.

Targets for queuing times for passengers from outside the European Economic Area were breached 62 times between September 18 and 30 last year. The longest wait was two hours and 15 minutes.

The racial scanning, seemingly widespread at Gatwick, involved pulling out white passengers when officials wanted to question a black passenger.

One official told inspectors he and his colleagues ‘specifically detained a number of white passengers’ from one flight so they could ‘show that white people were also being questioned’.

He said that when they saw arrivals they ‘knew they had a problem’ because the person they wanted to intercept was the only black passenger on the flight.

The inspectors added: ‘The officer also reported that this practice ... is also used for Caribbean flights to reduce the potential for future race claims.’

At Heathrow Terminal 3, inspectors found two-thirds of passenger searches were ‘neither justified nor proportionate or in line with legislation and agency guidance’.

The reports reveal a number of other areas where the border controls at Britain’s two biggest airports are failing.

At Heathrow Terminal 3, they raised questions over immigration controls, with the number of people refused entry by border staff falling by 20 per cent from 2009/10 to last year.

The numbers kicked out of the country after being blocked at the terminal border fell by one third.

Mr Vine questioned whether the UK Border Agency was still able to maintain ‘an effective and efficient border control’.

At Gatwick’s North Terminal, inspectors found passengers arriving from outside the EU were routinely allowed to enter through the ‘nothing to declare’ channel with too much alcohol and up to three times the legal amount of cigarettes.

Staggeringly, customs officers waved through passengers found with cannabis in their luggage, instead of arresting them. The report said they had failed to follow ‘appropriate procedures’ and the passengers should have been arrested.

Inspectors reported ‘an almost total lack of visible detection presence’ in customs for ‘large parts of the day’.

And too many suspected illegal migrants were being allowed through, including cases where attempted deception and breaches of immigration rules were clear, it found.

The reports are published today as two major immigration unions – the PCS and Immigration Services Union – walk out on strike.


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