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There are no illegal immigrants in Penally, Home Office confirms

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THE HOME OFFICE has been in touch with The Pembrokeshire Herald to clarify some of the queries that locals have regarding the Penally Army Camp, now being used to house asylum seekers.

The Management Team at the asylum seeker holding unit have refused to engage with the local County Councillor, John Preston, but the information now received could go some way to answer some of the questions which have, until now, remained unanswered on social media, and by the local member himself.

Firstly, there has been speculation about the immigration status of those people held in Penally. The government has now confirmed that those being housed in MoD sites are people “currently awaiting asylum decisions”.

This means that all of the people in the camp have applied for asylum officially, and that they are currently in the United Kingdom legally. This is because a refugee, who has presented himself to the UK authorities without delay, showed good cause for his entry or presence and has made a claim for asylum as soon as was reasonably practicable, is afforded protection in law from offences connected with that entry. It is legal for people to enter the country in a manner which would normally be illegal, as long as it was for the purposes of seeking asylum.

The people who are staying at Penally Camp are new to the UK, having arrived in boats or in the back of lorries – but they have already been quarantined and screened for Covid-19.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “In line with guidelines about arrivals into the United Kingdom, asylum seekers will have first spent a 14-day quarantine period in other temporary accommodation before, providing they do not display any symptoms of Covid-19, being moved to the MoD sites [including Penally].”

The Home Office also said that whenever using contingency accommodation, they “ensure that detailed assessment is carried out to ensure asylum seekers have the support services they need. If there are any issues that need to be addressed, we will work with our contractor and other partners to find solutions.

Suggesting that the decision to use Penally Camp was made in a rush the Home Office said: “There are times where contingency accommodation must be procured and mobilised at speed to ensure we meet our legal obligations.”

The spokesman added: “The Home Office is committed to working collaboratively with communities and stakeholders to ensure that destitute asylum seekers are provided with safe, secure and suitable accommodation while their asylum claims are considered. This includes working in partnership with local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups in England and Local Health Boards in Wales, Public Health England and Wales, the Welsh Government and local police forces. We have specifically set up an Asylum Accommodation Strategic Working Group to support collaborative working.

“Our ambition is to house asylum seekers within the asylum estate without the need for contingency accommodation. We are working to address the issues putting pressure on our asylum accommodation. This includes resuming support cessations, to get people moving out of accommodation when their cases are concluded, and also to continue to take steps to address illegal migration and the exploitation and organised criminality that goes with it, including the dangerous Channel crossings we have seen in recent times”.

THREAT OF ARREST

In regards to the protests in Penally, the Home Office spokesperson said: “We will not tolerate any attempts to fuel resentment towards asylum seekers and we will take all the necessary steps to protect people in our care.

“We continually review the security at asylum accommodation sites with providers, who work closely with local police to ensure action is taken if someone tries to access a site.”

The information sent from the Home Office came on the day that more asylum seekers were bussed into the camp, under the escort of unmarked police vehicles (Sept 28).
One solitary protestor was on hand to attempt to block the bus, but under the threat of arrest he was moved out of the way by a police officer.

On Monday evening, some of the asylum seekers from the camp came to the gates to speak to protestors. One of those protestors, James Gould, a member of the Facebook group ‘Penally Against Illegal Migrant Camp’ live streamed an ad-hoc interview with one of the camp residents, which has now been seen by over 20,000 people.

COUNCILLOR WANTS HIS VOICE HEARD

Meanwhile, Cllr Preston is pushing forward with his plan to spread national awareness about what is happening in Penally. He told the press over the weekend: “I spoke with a Home Office official last week and stated that I am deeply uncomfortable with the possibility that our human rights obligations may not be possible to uphold in such a facility”

“It is my understanding that the asylum seekers have been removed from support networks established within the UK who have the infrastructure to provide them with their essential medical, spiritual, emotional, and domestic needs.

“They have then been transported during the night to Penally where they have witnessed mass protests and media attention.

“Due to the highly prominent location of the camp it has now become a point of public curiosity creating an environment of anxiety and fear for those on both sides of the fence.

“I have met with residents and business owners over the weekend, and it is still not clear why such a facility has been established in the heart of one of Europe’s premier holiday destinations.

“I am in contact with the BBC with a view to raising national awareness of the situation at Penally Camp and how it has been implemented by the Home Office as I consider this to be of national importance.

“It will not benefit anyone to have a government enquiry in five years’ time to tell us lessons have been learnt’. The injustice is happening now in real time and this decision must be re-called as a matter of urgency”

In other comments to the press the councillor said: “No consideration has been afforded to the elderly population in the area or to the needs of a large group of vulnerable adults. The autocratic manner in which this decision has been made should be a concern to us all. We will continue to demand that it is reconsidered”

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Chief inspector of Immigration to review use of Penally Training Camp

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THE CHIEF INSPECTOR of Borders and Immigration, Mr David Bolt, is to commence a review into the use of hotels and barracks in the UK, including the Penally Asylum camp.

It comes as Pembrokeshire County Council continues to seek a reimbursement for its involvement with the camp.

At Tuesday’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Jonathan Preston said it was ‘shocking’ that the home office was not engaging with the council and said that they should ‘keep knocking on the door’.

Cllr David Pugh added: “Let’s get the tanks out and start shooting some really heavy bullets at them (Home Office).”

It was confirmed at the meeting that there had still been no agreement with the Home Office on any repayments.

Camp residents protest in Penally (Image G Davies Photography / Herald )

Director of Finance Jon Haswell said that costs had been estimated at around £55,000 a month.

Cllr Pugh said it was ‘horrendous’ that the authority would be almost half a million pounds out of pocket.

Cllr Preston also questioned if Penally Community Council would be able to recover costs for the work they had done but officers said they would need to look into that matter.

The use of the camp is set to end on March 21 and it is anticipated that a planning application will be made to extend that use.

The council’s Head of Planning, David Popplewell said that if there were any breaches of planning conditions that they would be able to consider enforcement action.

He also clarified the two conditions of the use of the camp which state that the applicant must notify the planning authority after the commencement of the use and that it should be returned to its former state once it has ended.

Use of the site commenced on September 21, 2020 and a letter to the authority indicated that the applicants would be applying for a six-month extension.

Demo to support asylum seekers in Penally in 2020 (Photo Herald)

There would need to be a pre-application consultation and any application would go to the council’s Planning Committee.

Mr Popplewell added that he had been in touch with the planning consultant regularly but said that he hadn’t had a further response.

Director of Development, Dr Steven Jones confirmed that the Chief Inspector would be commencing a review into the use of hotels, barracks and asylum accommodation. He added that the call for evidence was open until February 19.

Councillors agreed that the matter should be brought back to the committee if and when the need arises.

Cllr Pugh also asked about the council’s response to the recent marches into Tenby by some of the camp users which caused some anxiety amongst residents worried about the spread of Covid-19.

Rooms in the camp are said to be too small for social distancing (Pic: Camp user)

Darren Thomas, Head of Infrastructure, Transport & Environment, said that it was a public order policing issue and that it was for them to decide how they should police it.

Cllr Pugh said he didn’t think that the council should be criticised as much as it had been on social media.

Discussions have been ongoing with other organisations about understanding and addressing the impact and rise of extremist activity upon the County.

The report to the committee also stated that there had been opposition to the camp being used by the asylum seekers and that there was also support for those supporting the asylum seekers.

Mr Thomas said that this was not a reference to any specific group and said that it was a general point.

The camp was originally set up for the use of 250 occupants but many of them complained about overcrowded conditions and some have already been moved.

At the time of the report being written, on January 8, there were 124 people still in the camp. At the meeting on Tuesday, Mr Thomas confirmed that as of January 21, that number had gone down to 118.

Transfers to and from the camp have been halted under the Welsh Government’s Alert Level 4 coronavirus restrictions, except for medical or safety reasons.

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From ‘coke to smoke’: Huge haul of contraband found in Hakin drug den

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POLICE have released a photograph of a haul of illegal drugs found during a raid on a property in Hakin in recent days.

Posting the photo on their twitter feed, police said: “A successful warrant executed by Neighbourhood Police Team and Response Teams in Gelliswick Road.

“Class A, B and C drugs and substantial cash seizures. Two arrests on suspicion of supply and two dealt with for possession offences.

Suggesting they were supplied information from locals, police said they thought this was an “excellent example of police and communities working together.”

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Police investigating missing charity funds at Narberth fire station

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Where is the cash?: Money from fundraisers was never banked

DYFED-POWYS Police have confirmed to The Pembrokeshire Herald that they are investigating allegations of dishonesty concerning raffle and fundraising efforts involving Narberth Fire Station.

The Herald was contacted by members of the public and family members of Narberth firefighters expressing their concern that ‘a considerable amount of money’ that has been raised for charitable causes has gone missing from the station.

Alarm bells started ringing last year, after funds raised in memory of local firefighter Josh Gardener, were never banked.

Josh Gardener, tragically died aged just 35-years-old, during a training exercise conducted by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) in September 2019.

A source told us each local station took charge of their own fundraising for the cause, but it was overseen by Milford Haven Station and all raised money was to be collated together by staff there.

It is alleged that around £500 was raised by Narberth station. However, officers at Milford Haven raised suspicions, after no money was received.

A source also told us that each year, two members from Narberth’s crew don full uniform to sell raffle tickets in the town’s High Street.

One source claims that those concerned have been unlawfully fundraising, as they do not have the relevant licences in place to do so.

We asked Pembrokeshire County Council to confirm whether Narberth Fire Station had an up to date licence which would enable them to fundraise publicly in such a manner.

A spokesperson said: “Pembrokeshire County Council has contacted the organisation involved for further information and to offer advice on the rules regarding lotteries.”

It is alleged money raised from these raffle tickets, which sources tell us is also ‘a considerable amount’, is unaccounted for.

We asked Dyfed-Powys Police to confirm if they were investigating allegations of theft at the station, a spokesperson said: “We are investigating an allegation of theft from Narberth Fire Station.

We were told: “Enquiries are ongoing.”

The raffle tickets were sold on the basis that all funds raised were being donated to The Firefighters Charity and Narberth First Responders.

We contacted The Firefighters’ Charity to ask if they had been receiving regular donations from the station, they told us that they had been asked by MAWWFR not to comment.

All monies raised from fundraising is said to be kept in a locked safe within Narberth Station before it is banked, said our source.

They added that the only crew members who have keys which would enable them to have access to the safe are those who’ve sold the raffle tickets.

Due to an ongoing active police investigation into the thefts, we are unable to name the two individuals.

It has also been brought to our attention that since the investigation opened, last year, a member of staff allegedly took early retirement due to illness.

This newspaper has recontacted Dyfed-Powys Police to clarify whether they suspect a break-in or another possible explanation, we await their response.

However, the police have made no appeals to the press or public for information that would relate to the possibility that a burglary may have occurred.

The Herald asked MAWWFRS whether they had a licence in place to sell the raffle tickets lawfully, did all raised funds reach the advertised charities, and what procedures would they be implementing to ensure funds raised reached their intended target.

A spokesperson said: “Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service take any allegations around the conduct of our staff seriously and have procedures in place to deal with such concerns appropriately.

“We also take our responsibilities in terms of respecting the personal confidentiality of all employees seriously and as such will not comment further in this regard.”

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