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Offenders Free to Flee Country As Airport Staff Don’t Always Check Watch Lists

Owen Humphreys/PA Wire URN:15449317 (Press Association via AP Images)
Owen Humphreys/PA Wire via AP

Britain’s borders are not an effective barrier to people fleeing the country as watch lists designed to catch offenders are not always checked by airport staff, a court has heard. This means that forced marriage protection orders, which are designed to stop people taking young girls abroad to be married off, may not be effective.

The evidence came to light during a case heard by the family courts which centred on a 9-year-old Afghan girl living in London, whose mother had alerted social services to the fact that the girl’s father was planning to take the child to Afghanistan to marry an 18-year-old, the Guardian has reported.

The young girl was taken into temporary care by the police and social services and both parents were (in a separate judgement) made the subject of forced marriage protection orders, which place that person on a security ‘watch list’. The list is designed to flag up people if they attempt to pass through a British port and prevent them from proceeding onwards.

However, in coming to a decision on whether to place a forced marriage protection order on the girl, Mr Justice McDonald heard testimony from the police officer in charge of the case who informed him that protection orders are not watertight and would not prevent the girl being taken from the country.

According to Judge McDonald’s ruling, the officer told him: “In my professional experience, having subjects circulated on police national computer and/or placed on the watch list does not guarantee that they will be stopped when leaving or entering the UK.”

MacDonald added: “The officer [testified] that the port alert system is compromised by the fact that not all airlines carry out checks, particularly if tickets are purchased close to the date of travel, and that it is possible to travel to another European country for onward travel without passport checks being undertaken.

“The officer [added] that she has personal experience of individuals being able to leave the country notwithstanding a port alert being in place.”

Neither the officer’s name and rank, nor the family’s details were made public by the court.

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