Updated Exclusive:: Home Secretary says Gatstrip scandal will be taken seriously

The disclosures on this website and in the Tribune magazine at the weekend over the strip searching of Afro Caribbeans and the atrocious treatment of a gay man  by border staff at Gatwick Airport will be taken seriously by Theresa May, the home secretary, I was promised today.

Given the widespread interest- with 1700 hits so far and still counting and from the US, Australia and Europe – this is the least I would expect.

I took the opportunity of her appearance at the House of Commons Press Gallery lunch today (Tuesday) to question her about the findings in the report by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency.

She seemed not to be quite au fait with the detail but did respond positively to the issue. She said that Mr Vine was meant to be the Home  Secretary’s source for what is happening on the ground at ports and airports and she always took up his recommendations.

 Given that Mr Vine has made it clear that the behaviour there could have breached the Equalities Act that is good news.

She added: ” I always take the recommendations of Mr Vine seriously and in this case I expect the findings to be taken very seriously. We will respond to his recommendations.”

I shall wait the outcome with interest. The next question is what is the position of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission on this scandal. Given that it is headed by Trevor Phillips, of Afro-Caribbean descent, I expect to see some action here very soon.

Exclusive: Shame of Gatwick’s “strip search ” security staff who target blacks and gays

An inappropriate strip search – picture caption: Pbase.com – not at Gatwick

An extraordinary damning report revealing appalling practices by UK Border Agency staff at Gatwick Airport has gone almost unnoticed and unreported in the run up to Britain’s plan to welcome millions of people from abroad to celebrate the Olympics.

It reveals that overzealous, badly trained and unsupervised staff appear to be singling out Afro Caribbean women for unjustified strip searches and humiliating gay people in public at Gatwick’s North Terminal.

While government ministers, pop stars and airline staff are being allowed to leave and enter the country completely unchecked. through the VIP Sussex  Suite, putting border security at some risk, the cavalier way staff have treated the general public defies belief.

The findings are from no other impeccable source than John Vine, independent chief inspector of the Border Agency,whose highly critical report can be found here. (http://bit.ly/MIMZS6 ).

 It revealed that Afro Caribbean visitors to Britain have been subject to unjustified and possibly illegal strip searches . The searches were spectacularly unsuccessful in finding any illicit goods– with 96 per cent yielding nothing.

The report says  far more women seem to have been targeted for strip searches than men. Twice as many African and Afro-Caribbean people were searched compared to white people. “We found that 16 out of the 24 identified strip searches undertaken involved women. Given that only 30 of the 108 passengers subject to person searches involved women, this indicates that at least 54% of the female passengers stopped and searched were strip searched compared with between 11% – 20% of the men subject to a person search.”

He comments:“Indeed, even in the majority of the identified strip searches conducted (14 out of 24) there did not appear to be a sufficient basis to justify any type of person search, let alone a strip search.

He goes on: “The failure to observe the correct recording procedure can render evidence inadmissible in court and mean officers could face charges of assault in relation to the conduct of person searches.”

 “The extent of any discriminatory practices should be investigated and action taken to ensure officers both understand and comply with the Agency’s duties under the Equality Act 2010.”

As bad were the treatment of gay people. The report describes how one gay person was stopped and had his luggage searched in public and with other passengers passing by.  A request for a less public search was refused twice.

The report is worth quoting in full: “The contents of the passenger’s bag were then openly displayed including photographic equipment. The officer subsequently left the passenger to undertake background checks and later emerged signalling that the passenger could continue on their way. The officer then commented to another officer that the passenger was HIV positive; the colleague then advised that the searching officer should use stronger hand gel. These comments were made within earshot of the passenger and indeed other passengers in the channel.

When subsequently asked why this passenger had been stopped immediately after this interaction, the officer commented that the passenger‘looked like he might be involved in paedophilia’ and then went on to say that ‘the presence of the camera and the fact he had a boyfriend confirmed this’ (no photos were examined).

Notebook records of this exchange were not kept. The inspector describes this as” inappropriate and  unprofessional.”

You might say this is an understatement. Compare this to other parts of the report which reveal a casual attitude to people bringing in cannabis and a lack of consistency over allowing people with  excess cigarettes and alcohol to  bring it into the country. And aircraft are rarely searched – despite one being discovered with cocaine hidden in its panels.

Real Queues at Gatstrip -sorry Gatwick Airport. Pic Cap: The Guardian

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “Some of these findings are very troubling, and it is not the first time John Vine has criticised UKBA, but they are symptomatic of the parlous state the agency is in as a result of massive cuts to staff. UKBA has been left unable to cope, and not just with the queues for passport checks, but with the wide range of services it operates and if further planned cuts go through the situation will get even worse. To prevent this, the government must put a stop to these cuts and start properly investing in staff and the vital services they provide.”

Frankly this is not all that is wrong. It is time the Government got a grip of what looks like a disgraceful racist and homophobic situation at Gatwick before lots of other people are treated like this  – apart from the VIPs of course who are NOT subject to such  treatment.

 There is also  evidence of similar problems in a more recent inspection of Heathrow Terminal Three. The report says: “Person searches were not considered to be justified and proportionate in 31 of the 46 (67%) cases that we reviewed…The finding that unjustifiable strip searches may be taking place at Terminal 3 replicates our inspection findings from Gatwick North. This indicates that this problem is not isolated to one terminal and as a result we believe that Border Force needs to take action to address this issue promptly.”

If  you are reading this and have been treated either to a unwarrented and illegal strip search, homophobic reactions or found that Gatwick  or Heathrow adopted a lax attitude to border controls, contact me at david.hencke@gmail.com and it could go much further than just a report on this website.