Security chiefs admit another blunder as 1,350 illegal immigrants slip through the net

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is under fire over the vetting failures

Another 1,350 illegal immigrants have slipped through vetting checks for sensitive security jobs, it was disclosed today.

The Security Industry Authority admitted it had blundered again after a further glaring loophole was spotted in procedures.

Thousands of three-year licences have been issued to applicants, even though their right to work was due to expire within months.

The oversight is likely to have misled businesses over the status of employees, allowing them to hold onto jobs by showing valid licences.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said the news was more evidence of 'systematic incompetence' by the SIA, and demanded answers from Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

'Barely a year after they were hauled over the coals for granting 7,000 illegal immigrants security clearance - and trying to cover it up - we now learn that the Government has granted over a thousand more licences to individuals whose immigration status is about to expire,' he said.

'When was the minister planning on telling us about this latest debacle? The former head of the SIA resigned over vetting failures last week. At what point will this Home Secretary start to take some responsibility for her department?

'This episode is yet another illustration of how this Government cannot discharge its first duty - to protect the public.'

The SIA's systems were meant to have been overhauled last year after it was disclosed that applicants' right to work was not being checked, with some illegal immigrants ending up working at Whitehall departments and even guarding the Prime Minister's car.

Mike Wilson

Former Chief Executive of SIA, Mike Wilson, was forced to resign over security blunders

However, last week the authority's chief executive, Mike Wilson, was forced to quit after confirming that his own staff had not been properly vetted.

The National Audit Office has also condemned the body for going £17m over budget.

Despite the supposed tightening of procedures, the new loophole was only identified by officials last month.

Urgent letters were sent out to 2,000 individuals who no longer appeared to be allowed to work legally, according to an SIA spokeswoman.

'We recently identified (in partnership with the UK Border Authority) some 2,000 licences that are currently in force, where the right to work may have expired,' she said.

'We started appropriate procedures in relation to those individuals.

'Those who failed to respond with evidence of a continuing right to work (some 1,350) have had their licences revoked and those details appear on the public Register of Licence Holders.'

The spokesman went on: 'We are continually improving our processes to ensure as far as we reasonably can that SIA licence holders are not illegal workers.

'We work closely with security companies to remind them of their legal obligations and best practice when establishing the rights of their potential employees to work but employers should not accept the possession of an SIA licence as proof of this right.'

Despite the errors, the SIA has said it rewarded top managers with nearly £50,000 in bonus payments last year.

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