UK's Clarke orders raids over deportation row
LONDON, Apr 29 (Reuters) Home Secretary Charles Clarke, under pressure to resign over a row about foreign prisoners, today ordered a series of raids across Britain to detain people who should have been considered for deportation.
Clarke, a key ally of Prime Minister Tony Blair, has been under fire since revealing this week that 1,023 foreign nationals, including murderers and rapists, were released after serving their sentences in British prisons when they should have been considered for deportation.
Yesterday, Clarke said at least five foreign prisoners freed from jail had committed new crimes including violent acts or drug offences. One had also faced allegations of rape but there was not enough evidence to prosecute.
The admission was jumped on by his political rivals as yet more mismanagement in Blair's government.
Facing intense criticism over the bungled release, Clarke said his department had looked into the 79 most serious cases and had now begun deportation proceedings against 63 of them.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office today said six of the 63 had been detained and police and immigration officers were working across the country to pick up the remaining 57.
Clarke has said the remaining cases from the 1,023 will be considered as quickly as possible.
The disclosures came at the end of a disastrous week for Blair and before a crucial test in local elections on May 4.
Conservative spokesman David Davis said Clarke's position had become untenable.
''There are probable victims out there who would not have been victims had it not been for this massive failure,'' he told BBC radio. ''I'm afraid he has to go.'' The mass-selling Sun newspaper today said Clarke was ''hanging on by the tips of his fingernails'' while the Telegraph said he was battling to save his political career.
Clarke has said he regrets the mistakes and is determined to stay in the job to improve the system. A spokesman for Blair said the Prime Minister had confidence in his Home Secretary.
The prisoner release bungle was just one of the blows to the government's image this week.
Blair's deputy John Prescott, who condemned the previous Conservative government for allegations of sex and sleaze, admitted to an affair with his secretary and on Saturday the Daily Mail newspaper reported she would sell her story as she felt ''betrayed and humiliated''.
Health Minister Patricia Hewitt was also jeered and heckled by angry nurses over flagship hospital reforms.
REUTERS SHB KN1400