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Home Office said sacked immigration watchdog was ‘excessively critical’

Exclusive: Emails show officials felt independent inspector wasn’t ‘positive’ enough in wake of critical report

Adam Bychawski
18 September 2023, 1.13pm

David Neal flagged "unacceptable" treatment of migrants in a report the Home Office took issue with.


Independent chief inspector of borders and immigration

Home Office officials branded the UK’s chief immigration inspector “excessively critical” in internal correspondence before reports emerged that he would effectively be sacked, openDemocracy can reveal.

David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, has been told by home secretary Suella Braverman that he will not be reappointed next year.

Neal last year claimed the Home Office had tried to tone down a report that found its handling of Channel migrant crossings had been “inexcusably awful”.

Now openDemocracy has obtained emails through a Freedom of Information request showing that Home Office officials complained at the time about Neal’s failure to praise their work.

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“The overall tone of your foreword [to the report] is excessively critical. It amplifies the challenges and qualifies the positive findings,” the Home Office’s director general of immigration enforcement, Tony Eastaugh, told Neal in February 2022.

The email goes on to blame factors beyond the Home Office’s control for “conditions for migrants, once they arrived on shore, that we all knew were not good enough”. 

Neal, who has been in post since 2021, found the Home Office’s treatment of migrants at its facilities in Kent had been “unacceptable” in a report published in July 2022.

The report added that “effective safeguarding was sacrificed” at the Tug Haven facility in the Port of Dover, and that “data, the lifeblood of decision-making, is inexcusably awful” because staff were failing to record some arrivals, which he said could pose a security risk.

Although Neal’s three-year term comes to an end in March, both his predecessors were reappointed for a second term.

In January, Neal wrote that it was “disappointing” that Suella Braverman had decided to scrap annual reviews into the treatment of vulnerable adult detainees that had taken place since 2018.

The inspector told openDemocracy that Braverman had only met him twice since she took office and had cancelled or rescheduled several planned meetings. 

The Home Office is already facing criticism for leaving another watchdog post vacant for over a year.

Braverman has yet to appoint an anti-slavery commissioner to replace Dame Sara Thornton after her three-year tenure finished in April last year, despite a legal requirement for the post to be filled.

After stepping down, Thornton said the then home secretary, Priti Patel, had refused to heed warnings that her flagship Nationality and Borders Bill, now law, could make it harder for victims of trafficking to come forward.

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