Monday, 9 January 2012

Theresa May, Keith Vaz, John Vine and Brodie Clark

The allegations against Brodie Clark are listed in Rt Hon Theresa May MP's statement to the House on 7 November 2011:
First, biometric checks on EEA nationals and Warnings Index checks on EEA national children were abandoned on a regular basis, without ministerial approval.

Biometric checks on non-EEA nationals were also thought to have been abandoned on occasions, without ministerial approval.

Second, adults were not checked against the Warnings Index at Calais, without ministerial approval.

Third, the verification of the fingerprints of non-EEA nationals from countries that require a visa was stopped, without ministerial approval.
The suggestion is that Brodie Clark has deliberately endangered us all. No wonder the Home Secretary was furious. If the allegations are proven, then Mr Clark's behaviour was monstrous.

The Home Office have launched three investigations into the matter:
Mr Speaker, there is nothing more important than the security of our border, and because of the seriousness of these allegations, I have ordered a number of investigations.

Dave Wood, head of the UKBA Enforcement and Crime Group and a former Metropolitan Police Officer, will carry out an investigation into exactly how, when and where the suspension of checks might have taken place.

Mike Anderson, Director General of Immigration, is looking at the actions of the wider team working for Brodie Clark.

And John Vine will conduct a thorough review to find out exactly what happened across UKBA in terms of the checks, how the chain of command in Border Force operates and whether the system needs to be changed in future.  And, for the sake of clarity, I am very happy for Mr Vine to look at what decisions were made and when by ministers.

That investigation will begin immediately and will report by the end of January.

I will place the terms of reference for these inquiries in the House of Commons Library.

Mr Speaker, border security is fundamental to our national security and to our policy of reducing and controlling immigration.
John Vine CBE QPM is the Independent Chief Inspector of UKBA. It was in the course of his duties that he inspected Heathrow Terminal 3 in October 2011 and questioned Brodie Clark about the number of times biometric security/identity checks had been halted. It was when he reported his findings to Rob Whiteman, the Chief Executive of UKBA, that Brodie Clark was suspended. And now he is in charge of one of the investigations.

There are obvious questions here about just how independent Mr Vine can be. Very properly, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, has allowed that matter to be raised. Mr Vine will be under considerable pressure to demonstrate his independence when he reports some time in the next few weeks.

Brodie Clark argues that he did not endanger border security. Agreeing to drop biometric checks, he says, was sensible in the circumstances, they are the ninth and bottom priority in the pecking order of identity/security checks, they are the least reliable check (testimony given between 12:18 and 12:24, 15 November 2011):

That defence cannot be ignored. Not in an independent report.

Given that Brodie Clark's testimony can't be swept under the carpet, Mr Vine has a choice:
  1. He can declare himself to be no expert in mass consumer biometrics and leave it up to someone else to decide whether they are reliable enough to make a cost-effective and material contribution to border security.
  2. Or he can use his report to say categorically, one way or the other, whether Brodie Clark is right.
If he says that Brodie Clark is wrong, he will have to be able to prove it. He will have to be able to prove that the biometrics chosen by UKBA are reliable. UKBA themselves have never offered any evidence to support that claim*. The suppliers of the biometric technology have never offered any warranties. There is a large body of respectable, published evidence suggesting that the technology is unreliable and the considered opinion is that the discipline of biometrics is out of statistical control. It is unlikely that Mr Vine will be able, in the time available to him, to prove that Brodie Clark is wrong.

Which leaves just one option – Mr Vine could report that Brodie Clark is right. In other words, paraphrasing Mr Clark loosely, UKBA have been wasting their time and the public's money on biometrics, biometrics do not help to secure the border and control immigration, and they will do nothing to make the Olympics safe.

Whichever option Mr Vine chooses, it is to be hoped that the media will be paying attention. They missed the scoop that Brodie Clark gave them on 15 November 2011. They mustn't miss it again.

* UKBA vigorously resist attempts under the freedom of Information Act to get them to disclose the evidence they claim to have. Freedom of Information Request No.13728 celebrated its second birthday last week, on Friday 6 January 2011, Twelfth Night, Epiphany and the scene is set for many happy returns.


Mark Benney said...

Of course, Mike Anderson was a trusted deputy of Dame Helen Ghosh at Defra until 2010, as Director General for the Green Economy and Corporate Services (including legal services). Before Gill Aitken left for the DWP she was Director General for Law, Human Resources and Corporate Services. The new chief lawyer at Defra, Anne McGaughrin, is not a Director General and does not sit on the Management Board.

David Moss said...

Thank you for that comment, Mark.

Please see press release.

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