UK Border Force strike: Armed forces can’t detain people, emails reveal | Industrial action | Daily News Byte


Soldiers and sailors covering Border Force staff manning passport control do not have the authority to detain people suspected of criminal activity, leaked documents show.

The email states that members of the armed forces cannot stop people suspected of crimes such as possession of false passports, drug smuggling, people-trafficking and modern-day slavery if they have valid travel documents.

Instead, separate intervention from fully trained Border Force officers would be sought for suspected serious criminals or their victims, most of whom are currently on strike.

A Royal Navy official warned in an email that the inability to detain “could affect the op. [operational] capacity during industrial action”.

The revelations go some way to explaining why there has been little disruption at UK ports and airports since the PCS strike for improved pay and conditions began on Friday.

An email sent on 22 December shows that a Royal Navy sub-lieutenant wrote to Border Force and Home Office civilian staff to ask if Royal Navy staff working at Manchester had powers to detain suspects.

He wrote: “RN personnel currently stationed at Manchester Airport are currently prevented from completing and issuing IS81 and should not be involved in detainer activity by referring the BF officer. This may affect the op. [operational] capacity during industrial action”.

According to Home Office documents, the IS81 form gives immigration officers the power to detain people while they carry out further enquiries. It has to be issued even if someone is detained for only two minutes for a trivial investigation.

A senior Border Force official responded by saying that armed personnel were not adequately trained to detain suspects.

“Received the following email following my discussion with the C2 Navy Lead at Manchester. They have said that they cannot issue IS81 and this has to be done by a Border Force officer as there was only training up to IS81. Can this be clarified as a matter of urgency,” he wrote.

Another senior Home Office official confirmed in an email: “This is true. I have talked about this before. At which point any military personnel are needed [sic] Not able to disembark a passenger, a permanent member of staff will need to issue an IS81 on their behalf.

Around 600 armed forces personnel, 200 civil servants and 200 civilian staff from HM Revenue and Customs have been brought in to cover Border Force officers during the strike, which is due to continue every day of December except 27 December.

They were given five days of training and were brought in to take people’s passports and check them against “warning indicators”. [WI]” – a Home Office watchlist database with information such as previous immigration history and national security matters.

Border Force guards are usually trained for at least three weeks before interacting with the public. After three weeks, they are given a mentor to work with for a month to ensure they can work alone at the passport desk.

During training, they learn how to process and interview passengers, identify victims of modern slavery, detect forged documents, identify suspected trafficked children and interrogate passengers.

PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said: “The government has boasted that there are no queues at passport control, but if no one is stopped there is no queue.

“And no one is being deterred because the government has taken a plaster of paris approach to the problem.

“We warned before the strike began that military personnel with five days of training would not be able to do the jobs of experienced, professional Border Force officers.

“We have made it abundantly clear that the government can prevent this controversy by putting some money on the table tomorrow.”

Sources said there were “very few” fully trained Border Force guards at Manchester to help supervise the dozens of army officers checking passports.

Sources at Heathrow Airport have told the Guardian that members of the military covering Heathrow have been told they cannot detain people.

A member of Heathrow staff said: “Covering troops have been told not to detain anyone unless there is incriminating evidence. [through the WI]. With respect to immigration issues, they are asked to get everyone down to earth.

A Home Office source said Border Force officers who were not on strike were continuing to work alongside members of the armed services and other contingent personnel. “We want to minimize disruption during this dispute,” the source said.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Border Force has developed robust contingency plans which prioritize keeping our citizens safe and protecting our borders.

“We have flexibly spread our resources to ensure that non-striking Border Force staff, with the full range of appropriate powers, continue to fulfill their vital roles and have sufficient cover to meet our key priorities.

“Military personnel, civil servants and volunteers are supporting a range of services and all deployed contingency personnel are adequately trained for the activities they are required to undertake.”


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