UK

Report into Border Agency says ports 'wide open'

A UK Border Agency officer
Image caption The report examined the work of the Border Agency in Northern Ireland

Some ports and airports in Northern Ireland may be wide open to the smuggling of drugs and illegal goods like cigarettes.

The warning comes in an independent report into the work of the UK Border Agency in Northern Ireland.

The report said that there was too much concentration on passport control at the expense of preventing smuggling.

It also said that too much reliance was placed on historical intelligence.

The independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency spent six months examining how the agency carried out operations in Northern Ireland's sea ports, land border and airports.

He found that there had been few reviews of risk assessments at any of the locations. In one year, there was just one risk assessment for a single airport.

The report also discovered that agency staff did not check out air freight at Belfast.

Cigarettes

Flights from Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport had been assessed as low risk, but, said the report, that may no longer be the case. Yet there was little evidence of the risk being re-examined.

Often the agency's teams failed to reach their expected targets, especially when it came to contraband cigarettes.

The report suggested that there was a weakness in the team's initial target setting.

It was a similar story when checking sea freight.

Even after a period of 14 months targeting containers in Belfast with no success, the agency still relied on the same search feedback and risk assessment.

No consideration was given to moving the team to other ports, despite the fact that the last major seizure was of cigarettes in a different port, at Warrenpoint.

'Lack of clarity'

Claiming that small ports had been removed from the Northern Ireland risk register altogether, the inspector revealed that staff had completed threat assessments on just 16 out of 140 ports.

Northern Ireland's agency staff recognised there was a problem over who was responsible for this, noting that there is a "lack of clarity on ownership between operations and intelligence".

Too much emphasis was also placed on passport control points at the risk of missing smuggled goods, the report said.

Officers trained in detection were often used in this way and the report reveals that on one passport control point all three staff were detection officers.

Yet the report said: "This was on a flight considered to be high risk for the illicit importation of cigarettes."

The movement of "illicit commodities" across the land border between the north and south of Ireland was relatively unhindered by the agency staff.

They admitted to carrying out no detection work along the border because of personal security risks.

Attempts to address the problem led to the scanning of freight traffic leaving from Larne port but nothing was found.

Commenting on its findings, the inspector said the agency needed to use its staff more effectively and develop better intelligence.

It must also carry out more and better risk assessments, especially at the many small ports around Northern Ireland, he said.

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