Page last updated at 03:54 GMT, Friday, 26 December 2008

Criminal deportations target met

A prisoner
More than 5,000 offenders were deported in 2008

A self-imposed target of removing at least 5,000 convicted foreign criminals from the UK over the past year has been met, the government says.

The UK Border Agency was set the "tough target" by the government and now has staff working in prisons to speed up the removal of foreign criminals.

Those deported included convicted killers and 200 sex offenders.

The Tories said the figures hid the fact thousands more foreign criminals were being jailed or released early.

In 2006 then Home Secretary Charles Clarke ended up losing his job after it emerged that more than 1,000 foreign offenders had been freed without being considered for deportation.

Provisional UK Border Agency figures show 800 more offenders were deported this year than last, a figure which met another government target.

By exceeding this target we're showing once again that there's no place in Britain for those that continue to abuse our trust
Phil Woolas, Immigration Minister

Among the deported foreign prisoners were 50 people convicted of killings or attempted killings, 200 sex offenders and more than 1,500 people found guilty of drug offences.

Ministers say all non-EU prisoners convicted of serious drug or gun crimes are now considered for deportation, irrespective of the length of their sentence.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said: "Britain will not tolerate those that come here and break our rules, which is why we set the UK Border Agency the tough target of removing 5,000 foreign lawbreakers this year.

"By exceeding this target we're showing once again that there's no place in Britain for those that continue to abuse our trust.

"We now consider for deportation all non-European Economic Area foreign nationals who go to prison for serious drug and gun offences, no matter what the length of sentence."

'Pitiful progress'

But the Conservatives said statistics showed that for every three foreigners removed from the UK, two were freed having served less than half their sentence and with a taxpayer-funded allowance, and six more were added to the prison population.

Shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said the numbers had risen so fast that three jails were now dedicated to housing foreign criminals.

He said: "Far from paying the price as Gordon Brown promised, foreign national offenders are being rewarded by serving less than half of their jail sentence and with taxpayers' cash in their back pockets."

Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of campaign group Migrationwatch UK, said: "This is a welcome announcement but it is designed to deflect attention from a 10% drop in the removal of failed asylum seekers and pitiful progress in removing illegal immigrants.

"Effective removal is vital to a credible immigration system but the government is still not putting their back into it."

Licence scheme

Justice Minister David Hanson said the government would end End of Custody Licence (ECL) "when headroom allows".

Those inmates who are eligible for that scheme - introduced to tackle prison overcrowding - can be freed a further 18 days earlier than the time indicated by half their sentence.

ECL applies only to those serving between four weeks and four years and is not available to prisoners convicted of the most serious crimes.

Mr Hanson said: "We are working extremely hard, with the fastest ever creation of prison spaces and when we judge it is safe to do so, we will end ECL.

"Those prisoners who present the highest risk to the public are excluded from consideration under ECL.

"All prisoners are provided with basic subsistence to enable them to pay for accommodation etc following release."



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