Friday, January 19, 2007

 

Hiding what's wrong inside the Home Office

The plot thickens inside the Home Office. Not only is it a freedom of information black hole, even (we have seen again this week) to ministers, the Public Accounts Committee, and the leader of the opposition at PMQs; but now apparently there is the tactic of pre-emptive suspension of officials to keep the lid on embarrassing failure.
 
Brazenly refusing to reveal the identity of their latest suspendee, the Home Office in referring to him/her as 'high ranking' (which could mean anything) would like us to think that a senior figure has been put on ice on the grounds of incompetence. Much more likely, the suspension is before another 'whistle-blowing' case could befall them, outside the 'inquiry' currently underway into the latest twist of the ongoing foreign prisoner debacle.
 
If they hadn't gone for suspension, then this official could have done what I did and come forward under the protection of the Public Interest Disclosure Act. That the Department now has a tactic of pre-emption in this regard was revealed by how one of my ex-colleagues was treated as soon as he began mildly questioning some practice -- the hopelessness of deportation procedure, and how the figures for deportation are a fraud. My own case was cited and they accused him of planning to go to the media. He wasn't suspended, but he only avoided this by convincing them that he was fully 'on-side'.
 
With an impressive track record of inquiries that are total 'whitewash' and scapegoating, the Home Office is keen to keep buried the foreign prisoners scandal which keeps threatening to revive. That is why the inquiry is being conducted by the Home Office's own head of personnel. The scandal is the complete failure to have any means of keeping tabs on anybody. This time it is our own nationals who had been imprisoned abroad, and most recently before this was the case of the missing killer of PC Beshenivksy. On that occasion Government 'intelligence sources' -- Home Office and/or Number Ten spin merchants, in other words -- put about the notion that the elusive killer must have fled abroad hidden in female Islamic dress, when of course the real story is that the Home Office has no way to track him down because there is no system in place for doing so.
 
Reminding us of this would prompt renewed questions as to the whereabouts of the great bulk of the two thousand or so foreign prisoners that John Reid had assured us he would move heaven and earth to find. They have not been found and are never likely to be. This scandal is where John Reid came in and it remains where he could very well go out. It is also where at last some very senior Home Office personnel could themselves find themselves exited.

Given how leaky the Home Office is -- the media have all sorts of internal sources -- we'll soon know who is the suspended official, but it is astonishing that the Home Office think they can justify keeping his identity secret just to keep the lid on incompetence. Not incompetence by the official in question, of course, but the Department's.

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