In the Media

Foreign prisoners squad is disbanded

PUBLISHED September 26, 2006

The hunt for more than 1,000 foreign prisoners who were freed without being considered for deportation has been quietly wound down, even though hundreds are still on the run.

The team of 60 police and probation and immigration officers who were spearheading the hunt have been disbanded. Officers have returned to normal duties and the police station they were using has been vacated.

At the last count, more than 400 of the prisoners had not been traced. They included 74 violent and sexual offenders, seven of them guilty of murder, manslaughter, rape or sexual offences against children.

The Home Office conceded yesterday that the manhunt was no longer a "priority", despite so many offenders remaining at large.

John Reid, soon after his appointment as Home Secretary, said he would "move heaven and earth" to find the prisoners, and critics yesterday accused the Government of reneging on that pledge.

Mr Reid visited the police operation, in Fratton, Portsmouth, in May, the day after being appointed in place of Charles Clarke, who lost his job over the prisoner release scandal.

Asked whether he could guarantee that all 1,023 would be found, Mr Reid said he regarded it as "my highest priority".

Yet in contrast to the high-profile visit, the team, known as the Multi-Agency Information Group or Operation Trend, was disbanded over the summer without fanfare.

The most up-to-date figures on the prisoners were given by the director-general of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, Lin Homer, in a letter to the Commons home affairs select committee at the end of June.

Hampshire Police revealed that the Fratton centre was closed on the very same day, yet Ms Homer did not mention this in her letter.

MPs on the committee said the first they knew of the centre's closure was when they were informed by The Sunday Telegraph yesterday.