Border Agency staff sent to ease airport queues at Heathrow ‘sleeping on duty, drinking coffee and trying on sunglasses in the duty free area’Posted: May 5, 2012
By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
A ‘mobile response’ team of Border Force officers intended to ease airport congestion is sleeping on night shifts, strolling around Heathrow’s shops and drinking coffee, according to leaked emails.
One officer was told to ‘get his head down’ on a night shift and has described spending his time shuttling between terminals rather than dealing with passenger queues.
He said caustically he failed to see the advantage of staff ‘happily relaxing on a scenic bus ride around the airport’ while colleagues were in need of help elsewhere in the airport.
Long wait: Passengers vented their fury at being stuck in queues at Heathrow Terminal 5’s passport control (file photo)
Paralysis: The head of the UK’s Border Force Brian Moore was asked how he would react if there were four-hour queues during the Olympics. He replied: ‘So be it’
The insight has raised fears that plans to install more mobile squads to ease the now-notorious delays at passport control could prove to have little impact.
According to emails seen by the Daily Telegraph, rather than helping with the politically and economically damaging queues, the anonymous officer tells of aimless wandering around Heathrow when working with the mobile team.
He writes: ‘As to the night shift itself, we started at 21:00 hrs & spent until 22:30 strolling around the airport, drinking coffee & trying on Oakley sunglasses in the duty free shopping area.’
He added: ‘From 23:30 I was told to “get my head down somewhere” until 4:30 ish.’
The paper said the emails revealed that teams – of which there are reportedly 16 mobile teams of ten – were rarely sent in time during the day, thereby missing congestion in some cases because of the distance between airport buildings.
Last weekend the officer worked at Terminal 3, and told how he spent a couple of hours reading a magazine. On a previous occasion on duty at the same terminal, the Telegraph said he had ‘no passengers whatsoever’ for nearly an hour, while Terminal 1 was, he said, ‘heaving’.
A Border Force spokesperson said: ‘These claims misrepresent the effectiveness of using mobile teams who can move around the airport to meet demand.
Caustic: The unnamed Border Force official wrote that he was spending time ‘happily relaxing on a scenic bus ride around the airport’, rather than helping colleagues
‘This approach is sensible planning and is just one way to deliver a secure border that has the right numbers of staff at the rights times, meaning that the vast majority of passengers pass through immigration controls quickly.’
The Government has announced it is planning to draft in 80 extra staff in the wake of criticism of the lengthy delays.
Immigration minister Damian Green has admitted the Border Force needs to change the way it operates and said the extra staff would start work this month.
Ministers have already been warned they face a ‘summer of chaos’ caused by long queues at passport control due to a huge influx of visitors for the Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Airlines and airport bosses have criticised the queues and unions have complained that staff cuts are causing delays.
Ministers are to draft in more than 550 volunteers in a desperate bid to avoid chaos at border posts during the Olympics.
Visit: Immigration Minister Damian Green during a visit to Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport
The volunteers will receive just four days of training on how to operate passport controls at ports and airports, according to the Times.
Positions will be filled by staff from Revenue and Customs, retired immigration officers and those who have taken voluntary redundancy.
The plan had been limited to London airports but in a sign that Ministers are keen to avoid embarrassing delays it has been extended to Calais, Dunkirk, Bristol and UK controls in Paris.
It was announced this week that immigration staff are to stage a one-day strike in the bitter dispute over public sector pensions, threatening huge disruption at airports including Heathrow.
The Immigration Services Union (ISU), which represents 4,500 Border Agency staff, said its members will walk out next Thursday at ports and airports across the UK and abroad.
And figures released this week revealed that air passengers have been forced to queue at immigration for twice as long as ministers previously suggested.
News that travellers were delayed for up to 3 hours at immigration – double the length of time the Government had estimated – comes as it emerged the UK Border Force failed to meet its Heathrow passport control targets on an almost daily basis.
Fresh evidence of the true extent of the Heathrow passport control fiasco was presented to Home Secretary Theresa May as she met on Thursday with airline bosses seeking a solution to the predicted ‘summer of chaos’.
The queue figures were produced by Heathrow operator BAA which says its statistics are more detailed, accurate and robust than those compiled for the Home office by the UK Border Force.