The warning signs of the Windrush scandal may have been missed because ministers minds were elsewhere, the Home Offices top civil servant has said.
According to Sir Philip Rutnam, there had been some recognition of the risks in some elements of policies designed to tackle illegal immigration – but other matters may have stolen the focus of officials.
There was some awareness, but how is it possible that this was lost sight of, as significant a fact as it clearly is? he told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Im afraid I dont know. I think that probably peoples minds were elsewhere.
When asked which people he was referring to, Sir Rutnam, who has been a permanent secretary at the Home Office since April 2017, added: The relevant decision-makers – both ministers and officials.
A report from the National Audit Office previously found that the Home Office was aware of credible information about potential issues as far back as four years ago.
Ministers faced a furious backlash over the treatment of members of the Windrush generation – named after a ship that brought migrants to Britain from the Caribbean in 1948.
Commonwealth citizens who arrived before 1973 were automatically granted the indefinite right to remain but many were not issued with official documents that confirmed their status.
Long-term residents of the UK then began receiving letters telling them they were living in the country illegally, causing them to be denied access to the health services of lose their jobs.
As many as 164 people were even wrongly removed from the country – despite having lived there for decades.
The PAC also heard from Vernon Vanriel, 63, who came to the UK from Jamaica as a boy in 1962.
Mr Vanriel, a former boxer, had found that he was unable to return to the UK after he visited Jamaica in 2005 – leaving him stranded and homesick in the Caribbean for 13 years.
I tried to get back after two years but was told I couldnt get back, he told the committee.
I always considered myself as British. When I was refused entry, it just blew my world apart.
To find that I was refused entry to the country that I grew up in, and that I loved so dearly, was just mind-blowing to me.
Mr Vanriel was finally able to come back to the UK over the summer, stating that he still loved the country despite what happened to me.
Figures published by the Home Office on Monday show it has so far spent more than £6 million on its response to Windrush.
In addition, approximately £4 million in fees has been waived following the introduction of a scheme which allows eligible applicants to obtain status free of charge.
Officials have now traced 124 out of 164 people identified in a review of historical removals and detentions, while efforts to find the remaining 40 continue.