Home Office slammed over management of Penally camp
The Home Office has been criticised for “fundamental failures of leadership and planning” over its management of the Penally military camp in Pembrokeshire and the Napier barracks in Kent.
Both sites were used as makeshift accommodation for asylum seekers from September last year. The Penally site was closed in March but the Home Office is continuing to house residents at Napier barracks despite a major outbreak of Covid earlier this year.
Last month, a report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) highlighted the deteriorating mental health of residents as well as a lack of Covid protection and fire safety and described the camps as “filthy” and “impoverished”.
Penally and the Napier barracks in Kent were both run on behalf of the UK government by Clearsprings, a private firm.
The Guardian newspaper reports the outgoing chief inspector, David Bolt, wrote to Priti Patel, the home secretary criticising her department’s failure to consult local authorities over the use of the camps and its “wholly inadequate” health assessments, and “extremely poor” communications.
The Welsh Government revealed in October that neither they or Pembrokeshire Council were consulted by the Home Office or Ministry of Defence about proposals to use Penally to house asylum seekers and First Minister Mark Drakeford accused the Home Office of failing to address “serious issues” regarding living conditions at the camp.
Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, the Conservative MP for Carmarthen East and South Pembrokeshire, also confirmed he hadn’t been consulted about the Home Office’s plans for the site and only found out when he saw a Facebook post by Pembrokeshire council.
The unpublished report seen by the Guardian, also confirms that Public Health England and Public Health Wales both advised against accommodating men in multi-occupancy buildings during a pandemic and reveals the Home Office opened the sites before any of their recommendations were implemented.
Over half of the 380 men held in the Napier camp subsequently contracted Covid-19.
In the letter to Patel seen by the newspaper, Bolt said the Home Office’s failure to consult local stakeholders “was a serious mistake”, adding “the need to move at speed is not a satisfactory excuse”.
“The fact that in both cases local stakeholders learned of the decision via rumours rather than from the Home Office made matters worse. Professional courtesies aside, it is hard to see how the Home Office and Clearsprings Ready Homes were able to make an accurate assessment of the risks and suitability of either site without input from these stakeholders,” he added.
Two weeks ago, MPs and peers from the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on immigration detention at Westminster agreed to proceed with an inquiry into the use of the sites and will publish its initial findings later in the summer.