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Fire Brigades Union Yet To Hear From Government Over "Potential Death Trap" Bibby Stockholm

The Bibby Stockholm, docked in Dorset (Alamy)

4 min read

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has yet to meet with the government about the Bibby Stockholm barge, over a week after it demanded a discussion about the "potential death trap".

After the barge was evacuated on Friday owing to the presence of Legionella bacteria, ministers have been facing questions over what was known and when, with the government seeking to clarify when different parties were informed. 

Following the news that the Bibby Stockholm had been evacuated, the FBU reiterated its concerns about safety on the vessel, having written to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman earlier in the month to request a meeting.

This letter had still not had a response by Monday, PoliticsHome understands.

In a statement over the weekend, FBU assistant general secretary Ben Selby said: "We wrote to Suella Braverman more than a week ago to demand a meeting to discuss these issues.

"We have had no response that letter, and our fire safety and operational safety concerns remain.

"It remains our professional view that it's a potential death trap and an accident waiting to happen."

In a letter to government on Saturday, shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock asked for assurances that "fire safety issues will be treated with the seriousness and diligence they deserve".

According to the Prime Minister's official spokesman, test results that showed traces of the bacteria were shared with Dorset Council last Monday (August 7), the same day the first migrants were moved on to the boat. 

The spokesman also said that ministers were made aware on Thursday night of the results of the tests, but said that the Home Office is trying to clarify when officials in the department were informed. 

“We believe the government has acted quickly once informed. 

“My understanding is the contractors have a responsibility to inform the Home Office of this, rather than the Council,” he said on Monday. 

A statement from Dorset Council, first reported by The Telegraph, also suggested that it was the responsibility of the contractors. 

“To be clear, it was not Dorset Council's responsibility to inform the Home Office,” the statement said. 

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said that the government will be “communicating with all relevant groups to see if there are any lessons that can be learned. 

“But as we expect in any public health situation, we remain confident that we acted quickly once informed.” 

He also said today that it is “the intention” for people to return to accommodation on the Bibby Stockholm, pending the results of more tests. 

When asked today when migrants may return to the boat, the spokesman said: “We are not putting a timeline on that but obviously we do expect them to be back onto the boat as soon as possible. 

“The Home Office is awaiting the results of further tests and once they have been the completed the intention is to return people.” 

Earlier today, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said that he believes people should be housed on the Bibby Stockhom in the future. 

When asked by Sky News if he thought people should be allowed back on at a later time, he said: “Yes I do, because it’s costing around £6million a day in terms of the cost of hotels. 

“It's important that we both maintain safety standards but also reflect the pressure on the taxpayer in terms of that £6million.” 

The Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires disease, a type of lung infection. Mr Barclay also said nobody had shown any signs of illness from the germ. 

The barge, moored in Dorset, is part of the government’s plans to discourage people from crossing the Channel in small boats. 

Rishi Sunak made his promise to “stop the boats” one of his five pledges at the start of this year. 

The government hopes to eventually house up to 500 men on the vessel in Portland Port. 

Last week, PoliticsHome reported that Karl Williams, Deputy Research Director at the Centre for Policy Studies, who co-authored a report with former Downing Street senior advisor Nick Timothy on "stopping the boats", believes that the Bibby Stockholm is “addressing the symptoms and not the causes of the small boats and the crisis”. 

The barge contractors have been contacted for comment.

A Home Office spokesperson told PoliticsHome: “The health and welfare of asylum seekers remains of the utmost priority.  

“All asylum seekers accommodated on the Bibby Stockholm have been disembarked as a precaution and moved to alternative accommodation. 

  “The Home Office and our contractors are following all protocol and advice from Dorset Council’s Environmental Health team, UK Health Security Agency and Dorset NHS who we are working closely with.” 

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