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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 02:39 GMT 03:39 UK
Search goes on for freed convicts
Prison bars
Foreigners freed from jail must expect to be deported, says Charles Clarke
The hunt is continuing for hundreds of foreign criminals who were released from prison without being considered for deportation.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke told MPs that at about half of the 79 most dangerous offenders remain at large.

But, he added, the law would be toughened to introduce the principle that foreign nationals who commit a crime, should 'expect to be deported'.

Deportation proceedings have begun on 574 of the 1,023 released men, he said.

At least half of all the prisoners were untraced, Mr Clarke told the House of Commons.

Earlier, in a heated question time exchange Tony Blair told the House that the freeing of the men was the result of "decades" of failings. But Tory leader David Cameron called that explanation "pathetic".

And Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said what was needed was "less legislation, better government and a new home secretary".

LATEST FIGURES
More than half 79 most serious criminals still on the run, with 32 accounted for, deported or under Home Office control
Deportation has started to be considered in 574 of the 1,023 cases of prisoners involved in the controversy
Deportation is being pursued in 446 of the cases - the Home Office has not said how many of these prisoners are still at large

Hollow

Mr Cameron told the prime minister that Mr Clarke would "forever be associated with the scandal of releasing prisoners on to the streets".

"While you keep him in office, your claim to be tough on crime will be completely hollow," he said.

"Aren't people now paying the price for the arrogant attachment to office of a leader who has completely lost control?"

Mr Blair said the deportation system for foreign prisoners had not functioned properly for "decades".

"It is completely wrong to say that this problem was created or began under this home secretary," he said.

But Mr Cameron replied: "People listening to that answer will frankly think it's pathetic.

"The fact is, 1,000 people were released from prison and their deportation wasn't even considered."

HAVE YOUR SAY
Has this foreign prisoner problem really been caused because the law is not tough enough?
Dave Zwiquaski, UK

Mr Clarke said the issues were "complex and difficult" and said it had been "an unedifying episode" for all those working in the Home Office.

Foreign nationals would be identified at the point of arrest and as cases proceeded through the courts. The issue of deportation would also be raised throughout the sentencing process.

"Ideally, prisoners should serve their sentence in full in their home country."

He said the plans were "controversial", but he hoped he could rely on the "full-hearted support" of the main opposition parties.

Marsha Singh, Labour MP for Bradford West, said the home secretary "was in a pickle" and he called for change at the top of government.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, argued that new legislation was unnecessary.

"It is part of the essence of immigration control that home secretaries have enjoyed the broadest of discretions to deport people who are non-conducive to the public good," she told Today.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear Tony Blair speak about the foreign prisoner row




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