By Jamie Doward
UK Border Agency handcuffs pensioners and fingerprints children at country fairs to 'dispel myths'
At the end of a week in which the government's most senior lawyer, the attorney general Baroness Scotland, was embarrassed by revelations that her Tongan housekeeper was working illegally in the UK, confidence in the country's immigration system could be at rock bottom.
So some may find it reassuring to learn that the government agency charged with protecting the UK's borders has embarked on an extraordinary PR blitz to give the public a taste of what can happen to those who fall foul of fortress Britain.
A series of UK Border Agency roadshows at country fairs around southern England have seen children fingerprinted, pensioners handcuffed and families locked into immigration service "cell vans" as part of a drive to dispel what it says are "myths that surround immigration issues".
The initiative, featured in Interact, the newsletter for UKBA stakeholders, describes events at the Kent and New Forest and Hampshire county shows in which members of the public were briefly locked in "cell vans", placed in handcuffs and dressed up as "arrest officers" by UKBA staff keen to show they mean business. Children made "fingerprint paintings".
The newsletter concedes that "immigration staff knew they would have to overcome initial hesitation from the public" to being confronted by "fully-kitted arrest team officers".
However it concludes the roadshows were a "great opportunity to explain the importance of our work". According to the UKBA, at the end of the shows, 239 visitors had improved their opinion of the work of the service, while 13 said it was the same.
But last night migrant support groups questioned the rationale behind the PR campaign. "We appreciate UK immigration officers do a hard job in difficult circumstances," said a spokesman for Refugee Action. "But we remain to be convinced the way to dispel myths about immigration is to dress members of the immigration service up like extras from The Sweeney whilst running around fingerprinting children, handcuffing pensioners and locking families in arrest vans."