Windrush scandal: Home Office probing 8,000 possible cases
The Home Office is investigating 8,000 potential cases in the wake of the Windrush scandal, ministers have revealed.
The revelation comes amid growing pressure on the department over the treatment of long-standing British citizens who came to the UK from the Caribbean decades ago as part of the Windrush generation.
Some of those swept up in the scandal have lost access to public services and faced the threat of deportation despite their long-standing residency in the UK.
An independent inquiry into the fiasco is already underway, but Home Office minister Caroline Nokes told MPs on the Home Affairs Committee that a separate internal review of the department's records had thrown up around 8,000 possible cases of people wrongly penalised.
She said officials had gone “back to 2002 to look at those who may have been removed incorrectly”, and revealed that they were now combing the records of everybody born since 1973 who had been deported to Windrush-affected countries.
While Ms Nokes stressed that this did not mean 8,000 people had been wrongly deported - telling the MPs she had “yet to identify anybody who's been removed incorrectly” - she said it was “very clear that people have been detained” incorrectly.
MPs also became involved in heated clashes with Home Office officials over the department’s use of targets for removing people who are in the country illegally.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said helping those wrongly caught up in the Government's immigration crackdown is his most "urgent task", after he took over from Amber Rudd following her resignation.
Hugh Ind - the Home Office immigration chief who has been attacked by some Conservatives over the briefings given to Ms Rudd before the committee appearance that triggered her downfall - told today’s hearing that “an enforced returns target” of 12,800 had indeed been in place last year, with officials later having to "moderate their ambition" to process between 230 and 250 enforced returns per week.
Mr Ind said the department had decided “not to operate targets for returns” in the current year, but admitted that similar goals had been in place in 2016 and 2015. Ms Rudd stood down as Home Secretary after she admitted to "inadvertently" misleading the committee by saying no such targets were in place.
Meanwhile, MP John Woodcock became involved in a fresh verbal tussle with top Home Office civil servant Philip Rutnam over the use of the word "target".
The Home Office Permanent Secretary said there was "no use as I understand it within Immigration Enforcement" of that term. He added: "Instead the word which is used… is ‘expectation’. I think Mr Ind referred to an ‘ambition’, an ‘aim’."
Mr Woodcock blasted back: "You understand how absurd this sounds to normal people listening to this - or, in fact, I would imagine most of the MPs around?"
Speaking to PoliticsHome after the hearing, fellow committee member Stephen Doughty said the session had been "yet another extraordinary example of a Home Office in crisis" with minsters and staff "not in any way across the basic details of who they are deporting, removing, detaining or failing".
The Labour MP added: "The immigration system is in a shambles with systematic problems driven by the Prime Minister’s 'hostile environment' and cuts, leading to terrible injustices for individuals and families - not just in the Windrush generation but beyond. It already needs root and branch reform, so how on earth it will cope with Brexit is beyond me."
The revelations over the Windrush probe came as the Government was forced to defend extending contracts with scandal-hit outsourcing firm G4S to run two immigration detention centres – despite a Panorama programme last year exposing abuses of power by some staff.
Secret footage revealed guards apparently choking, mocking and abusing detainees at Brook House, near Gatwick Airport.
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins was pressed about the extension of the contracts by Labour's Diane Abbott, who said the Government had snuck out the announcement between the local elections and a bank holiday in a bid to “escape scrutiny”.
“It’s an even greater scandal that the contract was renewed at all,” the Shadow Home Secretary said in the Commons.
But Ms Atkins insisted that the two-year extension of the contract, which was due to expire this month, was a short-term measure taken while two independent reviews are underway.
“This will provide time to reflect on the two independent reviews’ conclusions, conduct a new procurement exercise and mobilise the successful provider,” she said.
The Home Office minister denied that the timing of the announcement had been a deliberate attempt to avoid criticism, saying it had been taking during the sensitive pre-election 'purdah' period and made public at the “first available opportunity”.