Home Office faces questions over ‘incompetent’ Bibby Stockholm transfer

Legionella bacteria was found in the water supply on the barge with 39 asylum seekers moved to alternative accommodation on Friday evening.

Home Office faces questions over ‘incompetent’ Bibby Stockholm transfer Getty Images

The UK Home Office is facing mounting concerns and pressure to answer questions over the removal of asylum seekers from the Bibby Stockholm barge.

It comes following the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.

The department have been accused of “incompetence” by Conservative backbenchers after 39 people who boarded the vessel were later transferred to alternative accommodation on Friday evening.

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock wrote to the government on Saturday asking what the Home Office knew of the risk of the bacteria before the decision to move asylum seekers was made.

The Home Office insist all 39 people who disembarked on Friday were moved as a “precautionary measure” with the water samples under further investigation.

The department said no asylum seekers have fallen sick or developed Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of pneumonia, and that they are all being provided with “appropriate advice and support”.

Department officials are understood to have been told by Dorset Council on Wednesday evening about the discovery of initial results indicating that the bacteria was present, but the transfer of a further six migrants on to the barge still went ahead on Thursday.

Government sources said the UK Health Security Agency then told ministers on Thursday that Legionella had been found in the vessel’s water system and advised them that they needed to remove those six migrants.

With a capacity of more than 500, the Government hopes that the use of the Bibby Stockholm will help cut the £6 million a day currently being spent on hotel bills for asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their applications.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the barge would not serve as a “solution” to the backlog even without the presence of the bacteria.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The primary thing that’s been revealed has been the startling incompetence of the Home Office itself… It’s really, really hard to understand how, at all layers, this could not be caught early”.

The senior Conservative MP suggested the problems could be related to “management” of the department rather than “ministerial” issues specifically, but added: “Even working properly, the Bibby barge would only take effectively one day’s arrivals.

“So it’s not a solution to the problem and all of this is going to go on until the Home Office is able to process these arrivals more quickly.”

Tim Loughton said the evacuation was an “embarrassment” and smacked of “incompetence,” coming at the end of a week in which the Government had planned a series of announcements aimed at promoting its immigration approach.

The Tory MP told the Telegraph: “This is deeply troubling and rapidly turning into a farce that the Home Office can ill afford.”

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has been urged by Mr Kinnock to answer a series of questions about the “extremely troubling matter” of the evacuation.

“This whole sorry affair is yet another shambolic example of the chaos, incompetence and confusion that have come to define the way in which this Government is dealing with the asylum crisis that it has created,” the shadow minister wrote .

“Why should the British public trust you to deal effectively with this mess when every measure you announce either fails to deliver, never gets off the ground, or just makes everything worse?”

Mr Kinnock later tweeted: “Has anyone seen Suella Braverman?”

If inhaled, Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a type of severe pneumonia.

It can grow in man-made water systems, particularly if the plumbing has not been used in months.

Public health expert Professor Paul Hunter said the bacteria would have been an obvious risk to test for before moving people on to the barge.

He said it was possible those on board could have been exposed to Legionella if they took a shower because this can generate a mist of the bacteria which can be inhaled, although the Home Office has said no one has fallen ill.

“Certainly if we… had had a (hospital) ward that had not been open for a number of weeks and the water was still in the pipes, we would check that before we actually started moving patients into that ward, and this didn’t seem to happen. This is very concerning,” Prof Hunter told Today.

The Home Office has been contacted for fresh comment but a spokesperson said on Friday: “The health and welfare of asylum seekers remains of the utmost priority.

“The Home Office and our contractors are following all protocol and advice from Dorset Council’s Environmental Health team, UK Health Security Agency and Dorset NHS who we are working closely with.”

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