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‘Scandalous’ airport inspection reveals lack of private jet security checks

An inspection at London City Airport found Border Force staff missed targets on the number of private jet flights they were supposed to meet (Victoria Jones/PA)
An inspection at London City Airport found Border Force staff missed targets on the number of private jet flights they were supposed to meet (Victoria Jones/PA)

A watchdog warned of a “significant risk to security” at a busy London airport and raised concerns private jets were landing in the UK without undergoing proper security checks, according to a report.

The newly published review was written by former independent chief inspector of borders and immigration David Neal, who was sacked last month by the Home Office after publicly sharing his fears about the problem.

Mr Neal “breached” the terms of his appointment, according to the Government department, which also said it disputes the report claiming it is based on inaccurate data.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the report is “scandalous” and exposes a “Conservative Government which has lost control of our borders and our border security”.

A spot-check inspection carried out by Mr Neal’s team at London City Airport in east London earlier this year found “failings at a local, regional, and national level” in Border Force’s response to general aviation – defined as any civil flight not operating to a specific and published schedule.

The inspection found Border Force staff at the airport missed targets on the number of flights they were supposed to check in person.

But much of the key information from the inspection – including how many general aviation flights had been physically met by Border Force staff – was redacted when it was published by the Home Office on Tuesday.

“This is shocking and something is clearly very wrong… this needs to be addressed by the Home Office as a matter of urgency,” Mr Neal’s foreword to the report said.

More than 3.4 million passengers passed through the international airport in 2023, according to its website.

A Home Office spokesman said some information had been removed for “national security reasons”.

Border Force guidance designed to keep the country safe directs that all general aviation flights “identified as high risk” are met by Border Force staff, except in exceptional circumstances.

“At London City Airport, only (redacted) were met in 2023,” the published report read, after inspectors examined Border Force data at the London airport.

Mr Neal said his report had prompted a “series of critical questions” for the Government.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “Were ministers aware that a number of high-risk general aviation flights were not met?

“And if the number of flights reported by the Daily Mail are incorrect, just how many flights are being met?”

The newspaper reported that data provided to Mr Neal showed Border Force failed to check the occupants of hundreds of high-risk private jets arriving at the airport.

“Border Force was aware that the London City Airport approach was not in line with national policy,” he continued.

“Three of the four recommendations have been accepted by the Home Office, and the fourth was partially accepted.”

Independent inspectors who visited London City Airport on January 31 and February 1 also observed “a lack of formal training for Border Force staff”.

Responding to the inspection, Border Force director-general Phil Douglas said: “We will never compromise on border security, and carry out robust security checks on those arriving into the UK, including both scheduled and notified general aviation flights.

“As I previously explained to Mr Neal, some of the information in this report is factually inaccurate. Border security checks were carried out on all general aviation arrivals at London City Airport.”

Responding to the report, Ms Cooper said the failings could mean “allowing high-security-risk flights to swan into the country with zero in-person checks, despite risks from drugs, guns and people smuggling”.

She added: “Even now ministers are hiding the true scale of the flaws, redacting much of the vital information, and slipping the reports out when Parliament can’t respond.

“The public have a right to get answers. We need to know how many high-risk flights arriving at City Airport were not checked in person as they should have been.”

Meanwhile an inspection of the immigration system relating to the social care sector found that 275 certificates of sponsorship were granted to a care home “that did not exist”.

Mr Neal, in a report sent to the Home Secretary on February 6, said the Home Office had a “limited understanding of the social care sector” and had underestimated the demand that would arise from care workers and home carers being added to the shortage occupation list for visas.

He said his report also laid out the “inappropriateness of its sponsor licensing regime for low-skilled roles, and the mismatch between its meagre complement of compliance officers and ever-expanding register of licensed sponsors”.

The incident involving the 275 certificates, when combined with another whereby 1,234 certificates were granted to a company with only four employees, could have resulted in up to 1,500 people arriving in the UK and being “encouraged by a risk of hardship or destitution to work outside the conditions of their visa”, he said.

Mr Neal said the potential consequences of the visa changes “should have been obvious” to the department’s policymakers, stating that migration into a “poorly paid sector is miles away from the recruitment of highly skilled workers being sponsored by multinational corporations”.

He added: “The net effect of these mistakes is that the Home Office created a system that invited large numbers of low-skilled workers to this country who are at risk from exploitation.

“Moreover, its control measures to mitigate the risk were totally inadequate. There is just one compliance officer for every 1,600 employers licensed to sponsor migrant worker.”

Responding to the report, the Home Office said the 275 certificates of sponsorship equated to around 180 visas and that they had been granted in the name of a real care home without that care home’s knowledge using false information/evidence, and disputed the figure of 1,500 people for UK arrivals.

The department also said some bodies “operating within the adult social care sector, or masquerading as doing so” had abused the opportunity presented by the care worker visa and added that the Home Office had “identified these abusive practices at the earliest opportunity”.

It said: “The Government has, and will continue to, implement robust measures to stem non-compliance. As with all our policies, we will keep them under close review and if needed, we will not hesitate to go further.”