"The Perfect Storm" – Our Ports are in Crisis

For the last year I have been campaigning for the Home Office to carry out a full and frank review of small port security and it’s clear they’ve done very little to increase protection to our coastal borders.

"The Perfect Storm" – Our Ports are in Crisis

Just this weekend there were six people, including two children, who were detained at Poole Port having hidden in unattended freight travelling from Bilbao. The weekend before others were detained on a similar journey from Bilbao. Today on the BBC, we hear about 16 year old Ali from war torn Afghanistan who hid on a lorry with three others in Cherbourg. A search in Cherbourg  of his lorry failed to find him, and his lorry was tagged “secure” allowing him to land at Poole and gain access to the UK. He finally jumped out in Peterborough, and is now in Local Authority care.  

I have today spoken to a constituent who witnessed 8-12 refugees being dropped off from a large RIB near Northhaven Yacht Club a few weeks ago that was reported to police and the Border Force.

Our port of Poole is becoming a perfect storm, refugees coming in from Bilbao, Cherbourg or by small inflatables. With the current terrorist threat, small port security should not be an afterthought. Whilst I welcome the fact some people have been detained on this side of the Channel, the big unknown is how many get through? Recent events are clearly telling us that many do get through. How many are terrorists or are linked to terrorism? If 16-year-old refugee Ali can do it, so can someone intent on causing us all harm.

The Home Office argue resources are being deployed in an intelligence led approach which would be fine, if there were resources to deploy in the first place.

I have already highlighted a recent review by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, which reveals a chaotic scenario with only three Border Force cutters defending our shores, an aerial capability that stopped months ago, with no forward contract or plan, and a team of maritime Border Force staff that received grading’s of “poor” in 26 out of 27 areas concerning knowledge of threats and risks facing the UK. The Inspection reveals clear confusion and lack of direction as to tasking of resources, and the collection of outcomes.

This is an absolute scandal.

I want to see a commitment from Government to improve our existing security measures, to ensure that we have the resources to successfully monitor any threats, on both land and sea.

Unless we act now, the effects of having poor or insufficient security on our coastal borders could be disastrous. We live in dangerous times and we are only as strong as our weakest link. It is quite clear that small ports are the weakest link.

Martyn Underhill
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner 

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