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Bibby Stockholm migrants not told about legionella scare on barge until after media reports, charity claims

The Home Office and its contractors failed to tell asylum seekers on board the Bibby Stockholm barge to avoid the water due to the presence of potentially fatal legionella until after the news emerged in the media, it has been claimed.

Care4Calais said some people on board the barge in Portland Port, Dorset, first found about the bacteria scare from the charity, who phoned migrants they had been working with after seeing the story reported in the media around Friday lunchtime.

Steve Smith, the charity’s chief executive, said it was “shocking” that the Government appeared to be prioritising “spin” over “the welfare of those on board”.

All 39 asylum seekers aboard the controversial barge were pulled off on Friday evening, due to the legionella scare, after the news broke around lunchtime.

Mr Smith told i: “We were talking to people on board Bibby after the news broke… at that stage they hadn’t been told.

“At that stage the Home Office issued an announcement saying that advice and guidance and support to those on board was their highest priority.

“We were thinking: hang on, it’s not their highest priority is it because actually getting the information out seemed to be the highest priority because we were speaking to people who hadn’t been told there was anything wrong.

“That was pretty bizarre – putting the spin (as a) higher (priority) than the welfare of those on board.“

He went on: “At the point where the Government publicity has said support, advice, guidance to those on board ‘is our highest priority’, they had not at that stage told them not to drink the water, not to take showers or not to wash in the water.

“We were telling them that over mobile phone.”

The Government has said that Home Office ministers were not told about the situation until the night of 10 August, despite claims the local council told the contractors running the vessel about legionella test results on 7 August – the day migrants boarded the barge.

The discovery eventually led to the removal on August 11 of all 39 people who had boarded the floating accommodation docked in Portland, Dorset.

Tory-run Dorset Council said it informed the “responsible organisations”, barge operators CTM and Landry & Kling, about the preliminary test results on Monday 7 August – the same day it received them.

A Home Office official was then told about the discovery on 8 August, the council said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said ministers only became aware of the issue on 10 August but said that the Home Office was still “clarifying” if officials may have been aware earlier.

Put to him that asylum seekers on board the barge were not removed until 5pm and were not given instructions to avoid showers and drinking the water despite the media reporting the test results for hours, the spokesman replied: “My understanding is they have had all the requisite medical support and assistance and no one is reporting any symptoms.

“As far as I am aware, ministers were made aware on Thursday evening, people were disembarked on Friday.

“So I think that shows that we acted quickly.”

A Home Office spokesman added: “The health and welfare of asylum seekers remains of the utmost priority.

“All asylum seekers accommodated on the Bibby Stockholm have been disembarked as a precaution and moved to alternative accommodation.

“The Home Office and our contractors are following all protocol and advice from Dorset Council’s Environmental Health team, UK Health Security Agency and Dorset NHS who we are working closely with.”

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