While members of an Islamist terror cell are given the green light to work as security guards, Father Christmas is prevented from delivering presents to children fearing he posed a security threat. Go ahead Britain, just jump already.
Manchester terror suspects cleared to work as guards
Ten members of a suspected Islamist terror cell, said by MI5 to be plotting to blow up a shopping centre and a nightclub in Manchester, had been granted permission by the Home Office to work as security guards in Britain.
The Pakistani students — who were never charged for lack of evidence — were arrested over an alleged plot to bomb Britain last Easter. Police believed they had conducted “hostile reconnaissance” of the Arndale and Trafford shopping centres and the Birdcage nightclub.
It has now emerged that in the months before the alleged plot, the men were given licences to work as security guards by the Security Industry Authority (SIA), a Home Office body that regulates the private security industry.
They all passed a vetting programme designed to bar criminals and undesirables from taking up sensitive security posts protecting airports, ports and Whitehall buildings from terrorist attack. When arrested, two of the students were working for a cargo firm which had access to secure areas at Manchester airport.
Critics said the case highlights serious flaws in the system for vetting overseas applicants for the permits. Foreign migrants do not need to have their applications counter-signed by a British referee. Officials privately admit they do not even attempt to make checks on applicants’ address histories in Pakistan.
The blunder occurred despite ministers’ promises to tighten up the system two years ago after it emerged that the SIA had allowed more than 7,000 illegal immigrants to work as security guards. One had even been allowed to guard the prime minister’s car.
Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, is writing to Alan Johnson, his Labour counterpart, to demand an explanation. “The fact that security checks on overseas nationals seeking clearance for the security industry are much more lax than for British people just beggars belief. This is clearly a huge hole in our security system,” he said.
Details of the case emerged after a post-mortem into Operation Pathway, a five month-long police inquiry into the suspected Easter bomb plot.
The suspects, aged 22 to 38, are thought to have arrived in Britain on student visas in 2007 and 2008. Their visas allowed them to work in paid employment for up to 20 hours a week. Because they had successfully applied for SIA permits, they were able to get work as security guards.
Patrick Mercer, chairman of parliament’s counter-terrorism committee, said that without proper address checks and a UK referee, there was no way of knowing whether or not an applicant had spent the past five years in a terrorist training camp. “Every element of the security industry must be trained properly … to be suspicious of all applications for jobs like this,” he said.
Critics say the SIA needs to be far more vigilant, especially about applications from Pakistan. Gordon Brown has repeatedly said that two out of three UK terror plots have been hatched in that country.
The SIA initially said in a statement this weekend that all applicants “must” have a UK passport holder to act as a referee. But its own guidance notes state that in “exceptional cases” this is not required.Although applicants must list their addresses for the past five years, officials admit privately that it is impossible for UK-based officials to check.
MI5 was investigating the terror suspects for five months before the arrests. Police swooped in April, arresting 12 men in Manchester, Liverpool and Clitheroe, Lancashire. One was released almost immediately but the remaining 11 — all Pakistanis — were held under the government’s controversial 28-day terrorism laws. But police uncovered no hard evidence and the Crown Prosecution Service said they could not be charged.
The men insisted they were innocent and most have now returned to Pakistan, while two others remain in custody to fight their case.
The SIA said: “We conduct robust identity, criminality and right-to-work checks on all applicants. We cannot act on hearsay but do refuse, revoke and suspend licences on the basis of information given by partners such as the police.”
Father Christmas turned away from asylum centre over security concerns
Police were called in to prevent a clergyman dressed as Father Christmas from delivering presents to children at an asylum centre due to fears he posed a security threat.
By Richard Edwards
Published: 11:14AM GMT 13 Dec 2009
The Rev Canon James Rosenthal, dressed in a red robe with a long white beard and holding a bishop’s mitre and crook, was refused entry by guards at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire.
After gently protesting that he was not a threat, he started to bless the £300 worth of gifts donated by congregations of several London churches. But after an unedifying stand off, the security guards then called the police on the visitor, who was accompanied by one of Britain’s most distinguished clerics.
Mr Rosental, who is the Anglican church’s leading expert on St Nicholas, said he was “extremely disappointed” that 35 boys and girls at the centre were denied a pre-arranged visit by the patron saint of children and the imprisoned.
“St Nick has never been turned away from anywhere before,” he said. “So I was extremely disappointed not to be able to hand deliver the gifts to the children detained at Yarl’s Wood. I hope the kids realise that they will be firmly in my prayers.”
Mr Rosental is writing a formal letter of complaint to the centre about how it handled the visit and the heavy-handed tactics employed by the guards who patrol the perimeter fence.
Serco, a private security company that operates Yarl’s Wood, referred questions to the Home Office. A spokesman said that only people subject to stringent security checks can be allowed into the detention centre and there can be no exceptions.
But the St Nicholas Society, of which Mr Rosental is patron, said that Serco did not respond to numerous requests before the visit earlier this month to discuss how a handover of presents could be carried out and also refused requests to provide details about the 35 children in the centre so they could receive appropriate presents.
Serco also refused permission for the two clerics to enter the centre to visit two refugee families later the same day, as it had previously agreed. They were handed letters from Dawn Elaine, contracts manager at Yarl’s Wood, saying permission had been revoked because of “concerns about your conduct”.
Mr Rosental said: “If this is how visitors are treated, I shudder to imagine what else transpires inside Yarl’s Wood.”
He was accompanied on the trip earlier this month by the Rev Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, canon theologian at Westminster Abbey.
He said: “This was about bringing a moment of joy to kids locked up in a deplorable situation. I can’t help but contrast the smiles and wonderment on the faces of the children St Nicholas visited at a local primary school with the sad fate of those kids who will be locked up in Yarl’s Wood over Christmas.”
The presents were eventually loaded into an unmarked van by staff who refused to provide a name, number or receipt for the gifts. Mr Rosental asked one “guard” his name and the man said “write down ‘Father Christmas'”.