Border force officers blamed the shortage of checks on government insistence that lengthy queues do not build up at passport control
Arrivals signs at Heathrow
Customs desks at one of Britain’s busiest air terminals are being left unstaffed - even when ‘high-risk’ flights are landing, a watchdog’s report has found.
Inspectors at Heathrow ’s Terminal 5 found hundreds of passengers were passing through customs unchecked.
The report by staff working for the chief inspector of borders did not say where the passengers had flown from, but the terminal receives plans from cities in the US, Brazil, South Africa, India, Kenya and Turkey.
Customs desks should be staffed by officers hunting for illegal items such as drugs and firearms.
Border force officers blamed the shortage of checks on government insistence that lengthy queues do not build up at passport control.
Inspectors spend nearly 25 hours watching 78 officers in the customs channel at Terminal 5 last year, according to The Times newspaper.
Heathrow's terminal five customs
The report said: “On eight occasions during this
period there were no officers in the customs channels at one or both of the two exits, despite the fact that a number of ‘high-risk’ flights were arriving at the time.”
It emerged in the report that customs officers were failing to meet targets for seizing drugs. cash and illegal cigarettes at the terminal, which handles more than 13 miilion passengers a year.
Similar problems were found at Stansted airport in 2013 when bosses focused on reducing passport queues rather than enforcing customs channels.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: “We simply cannot have a situation where high-risk flights arrive and there is no one in the customs channel.”
Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the Immigration Service Union, said: “Pressure to examine every arriving passenger for immigration purposes and an aversion to adverse publicity on queueing times mean that there are simply not enough staff to perform the secondary (Customs) role, sometimes leaving the channels unstaffed.
“This comes down to a political decision; resource the border sufficiently, or decide which elements the government no longer wish staff to perform.”