Nearly a third of people stopped and questioned for immigration crimes in “intelligence led” street operations in Leeds were British citizens, new figures reveal.
Data uncovered in a collaborative investigation shows that 2,799 people were in the past five years subjected to spot checks by immigration officials in Leeds, with just 30 per cent later arrested.
Called ‘encounters’ by the Home Office, this is where individuals are asked about their immigration status, and must be based on “reasonable suspicion”.
But as it emerges that 29 per cent of those stopped in Leeds were British and, as the Home Office confirms it does not collect data on their ethnicity, questions have now been raised over weaknesses in intelligence and possible discimination.
“By reason of those individuals being British, by definition, any intelligence relied on to spot check them must have been wholly flawed,” said leading human rights barristers Chris Williams and Nicola Braganza of Garden Court Chambers. “This begs the question as to what the actual reason is for so many ‘wrong’ spot checks being carried out.
“Given the nature of the checks and that they target immigration offenders, the obvious inference is that those who ‘look’ like immigrants are targeted. That suggests that rather than immigration officials carrying out checks on an intelligence led basis, as required, the checks are led by racial profiling.
“Those concerns must be addressed by the Home Office. What is clear is that if spot checks are intelligence-led, the intelligence is not working.”
Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central, said: “These figures are extraordinary. If the operations really are ‘intelligence-led’, then why are so many British citizens wrongly being stopped?
“The 2,799 of our fellow Leeds citizens who have been questioned deserve an answer, and the Home Office should now review how these operations are being carried out.”
The seven month investigation by The Bristol Cable and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism was based on Freedom of Information requests to the Home Office, covering the UK’s 11 major mainland cities for the five years to January 2017.
It found that 19,096 British citizens had been stopped and questioned for immigration crimes, the most frequent of any nationality, including 817 in Leeds.
Home Office guidance has changed over time, but maintains that there must be “reasonable suspicion” for officers to carry out stops.
The Home Office, in response to questions over whether the data could indicate racial profiling and a failure in intelligence led operations, said: “All Immigration Enforcement activity is intelligence led and fully compliant with the Equality Act 2010.
“It is unlawful for an Immigration Officer carrying out their duties to undertake any act that constitutes direct discrimination based on a person’s race or ethnicity.
“A person’s colour or perceived ethnic origin can never be the basis of a reasonable suspicion that someone is an immigration offender. Nothing in the data provided indicates that this is happening.”