Ex-borders chief Brodie Clark: I didn’t go rogue


The former head of the UK border force has told MPs he is “no rogue officer” and denied ignoring government policy.

Brodie Clark was suspended after claims he relaxed passport checks at UK borders beyond what Home Secretary Theresa May had agreed to in a trial.

MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Committee also questioned the UK Border Agency’s Chief Executive, Rob Whiteman.

He said Mr Clark dropped fingerprint checks without telling ministers, even though they had rejected such a move.

Mr Clark stepped down after the relaxation of border checks was revealed, saying his position had been made “untenable”.

But he told MPs he “did not extend or alter” the pilot scheme “in any way whatsoever” and was “meticulous” in ensuring senior staff were briefed on it.

The committee’s chairman, the Labour MP Keith Vaz, says he is “determined to get to the bottom of this serious breach of security”.

‘Complete clarity’
Mrs May says she authorised the relaxation of some checks on children from the European Economic Area (EEA) and some extra checks on EEA adults under “limited circumstances” at peak times – but claims Mr Clark allowed officials to go further, without ministerial approval.

But Mr Clark told MPs: “I introduced no additions to the home secretary’s trial, neither did I extend it or alter it in any way whatsoever.

“I was meticulous in ensuring that my top operational team and my senior port managers had complete clarity on the home secretary’s requirements.”

He said he “reported weekly to the home secretary as she had required” and insisted the trial had “delivered exactly as she had wished”.

He added: “I am no rogue officer. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

What Theresa May, Rob Whiteman and Brodie Clark told MPs
Mr Clark said the pilot was “overlaid” on top of “long-standing contingency arrangements” in place since 2007, which allowed staff at ports to relax certain checks at particularly busy times.

Asked whether ministers knew about this option, he said: “I would be surprised if they did not know these policies or understand them.”

He added: “I made no connection between business as usual under these circumstances and the pilot operation.”

Fingerprint checks
The 2007 guidance does not permit the relaxation of fingerprint checks – indeed, they were not introduced until after it was written – and does not allow any reduction in checks for non-EEA nationals.

The guidance does allow border staff to forgo checks on EEA passengers against the warnings index of terrorists and criminals when queues become dangerously long.

But Mr Clark told MPs he believed the warnings index was more important, so he chose to relax fingerprint checks instead without asking ministers.

He acknowledged that the home secretary had ruled out doing this as part of the pilot scheme, but said she had made no mention of being against it being done for health and safety reasons at busy times.

“I did it to preserve the safety of the UK, not to weaken it,” he said.

Mr Whiteman said it was “disingenuous” of Mr Clark not to give ministers the “full picture” of other policies that were in use when they were setting up the pilot.

“Ministers had been clear that they did want that check [fingerprints] to take place,” he said.

Giving his evidence after Mr Clark, Mr Whiteman said ministers were “not aware of an older policy that was being used” to justify scrapping some checks.

He said it was “disingenuous” of Mr Clark not to give ministers the “full picture” of other policies that were in use when they were setting up the pilot.

“Ministers had been clear that they did want that check [fingerprints] to take place,” he said.

Mr Whiteman said that in a meeting he had with Mr Clark, the ex-border force chief was “clear that ministers had no knowledge of health and safety provisions under which he was suspending secure ID [fingerprint checks]”.

He added: “From what I see the 2007 guidance has been stretched. It’s being used on more occasions than in really dire health and safety circumstances.”

Mrs May said last week that officials had been able to relax border checks for several years “in order to ensure flows through” arrivals, but she insisted the 2007 guidance “does not allow a decision to be made to significantly change the checks at the border”.

Retirement ‘package’
Mr Clark added: “Over 40 years I have built up a reputation and over two days that reputation has been destroyed and I believe that has been largely because of the contribution made by the home secretary.”

He said he was initially suspended and offered retirement by Mr Whiteman, with a “good package” and “a good reference”.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper: “There are far more questions than answers in this continuing borders fiasco”
But after he had decided to accept, he was told the following day there had been a “change of mind”, the offer was withdrawn and there would be no package.

Mr Whiteman told MPs that retirement was discussed, but the permanent secretary at the Home Office had intervened and made clear it would not be appropriate, given that Mr Clark could face disciplinary proceedings.

Earlier, in a response to a written question from Mr Vaz, the home secretary revealed that the pilot applied to 28 ports and airports.

They included Heathrow, Gatwick, Calais, Coquelles, Glasgow, Harwich, Manchester Airport, Aberdeen and Cardiff.

She also disclosed that more than 10 million people entered the UK in August when the pilot scheme was operating.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said there had been a “borders fiasco” as she asked an urgent question in the Commons on the situation.

Home Office minister Damian Green replied to the question, saying that any changes made had been to toughen up border controls.

Mrs May has announced three inquiries into what happened, the main one led by the Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, John Vine.

BBC © 2011

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