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Page last updated at 23:12 GMT, Sunday, 14 May 2006 00:12 UK

Labour's foreign criminal crisis

Inside a prison

Our investigation shows that the authorities have failed to put the public's safety first because they have tried so hard to meet Tony Blair's asylum targets.

Panorama decided to investigate why at least one thousand foreign-national prisoners have been released since 1999 when they should have been considered for deportation under laws introduced by David Blunkett as Home Secretary.

Panorama spoke to three whistleblowers, who are senior officers in the immigration service, and found out that the crisis was made worse by a deliberate policy carried out in secret.

There are certain nationalities who it's just not possible to remove.
Immigration Officer A

We're going to focus purely on failed asylum seekers. Everything else must go out the window.
Immigration Officer B

We're not doing what we're actually supposed to be doing.
Immigration Officer C

I'll never forgive him until the day I die. What is the government thinking about?
Rape victim of released foreign prisoner

The whistleblowers told Panorama about a prison service struggling to cope with an influx of foreign inmates while the government focuses resources on failed asylum seekers rather than prisoners eligible for deportation.

At the Labour Party conference in 2004, Tony Blair said he would remove more failed asylum seekers every month than those applying to live in Britain. This target was called Tipping the Balance.

The Home Office told Panorama in a statement: "We don't dispute that the Tipping the Balance target has been important but not at the expense of other immigration controls."

One of Panorama's whistleblowers said that he was asked why he was wasting his time trying to get information on a person he was told was 'unremoveable'. And Panorama has evidence to back up what our insiders told us.

We obtained a secret immigration service document dated March this year. It lists five national operational priorities for enforcement and removals.

The top two are 'failed asylum seeker removals' and 'illegal working operations targeted at failed asylum seekers'. The list does not mention crime or criminality. It is possible some team was tasked separately.

Before foreign prisoners, who might be deportable, are due for release the prisons are meant to contact the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND).

Prisons have no legal choice but to release their foreign prisoners at the end of their sentences unless they receive information from the IND. An absence of up-to-date information has given Britain's prisons no choice but to release hundreds of foreign nationals back onto the streets.

Brian Caton from the Prison Officers' Union told Panorama that when there are problems with that system the public are put at risk.

Panorama: Labour's Foreign Criminal Crisis was on BBC One on Sunday May 14 2006.


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