Ministers were plunged deeper into scandal last night as it emerged almost 200 of the dangerous criminals who are wrongly at large are foreign nationals. Incredibly, a third of the convicts were released from jail on licence despite being told they were liable for deportation. Facing removal from Britain, the men – who include a rapist – went on the run. Critics said it ‘beggared belief’ that ministers had been prepared to release on to the streets criminals who should have been booted out of the country.

The revelations followed the announcement on Monday that 954 criminals who were released early had been recalled to jail for breaching their licence requirements, but had never been tracked down by police. The Government made no mention of the nationality of the convicts, who include murderers, rapists and paedophiles. But the Daily Mail has discovered that 192 of the 954 are classed as foreign nationals.

Some 64 had committed crimes which were so serious they should have been deported at the end of their sentence. But instead of being held in detention until they could be kicked out, they were allowed to walk free on licence instead.

The scandal for the Home Office now moves significantly closer to the foreign prisoner fiasco, which claimed the scalp of Charles Clarke in 2006. In that year, it emerged that 1,000 overseas inmates were freed without even being considered for deportation. Last night, Tory home affairs spokesman Chris Grayling said: ‘This is fast turning into a major scandal. ‘The failure to deport foreign criminals after they are released from jail has already cost the job of one Home Secretary, people simply will not understand why ministers have failed to get to grips with this problem.’

Critics said inmates were now being assessed for removal, but this did little good if they were being allowed to walk free.

The Mail reported yesterday how an urgent police manhunt was under way to trace the 954 criminals wrongly at large. They include 20 murderers, 15 rapists and five paedophiles. At least 59 have reoffended, including crimes of rape. One murderer has been on the run for 25 years, and is understood to have escaped abroad, and is living in mainland Europe.

The Government knew little or nothing of the fiasco until after a review of the recall process was ordered two years ago. The findings were made available on Monday, in a statement to Parliament. Criminals freed early on licence can be sent back to jail if they reoffend, or breach the terms of their early release.

Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, said: ‘The system for dealing with the consideration and removal of foreign national prisoners has been made more and more secure, with every individual considered before the end of their sentence. ‘Any foreign criminal serving more than 12 months in prison is automatically considered for deportation – last year we sent home a record 5,400 lawbreakers. ‘We are working closely with the police and probation service to assist in returning to prison those foreign national prisoners who have broken their licence conditions.’

Liberal Democrat spokesman Chris Huhne said: ‘The Home Office may have been split in two since the last foreign prisoners scandal but it seems the lessons still haven’t been learned.’

At least two police forces have refused to publish the names and pictures of local criminals who had absconded. But last night, the the Information Commissioner’s Office said data protection rules should not stop them releasing such details.

SOURCE

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