Cooper condemns Heathrow 'disgrace'
Published 08/07/2012 | 13:22
It is a disgrace that with three weeks until the Olympics international athletes arriving at Heathrow are waiting longer than two hours to pass through immigration control, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper says.
A leaked memo reveals tourists arriving from outside the European Economic Area are repeatedly waiting longer than the 45-minute target time to pass through passport control. Meanwhile, European visitors are waiting longer than one hour when it should take less than 25 minutes to have their documents checked.
Ms Cooper said many of those forced to wait in long queues were Olympic athletes, who will be arriving ahead of the opening ceremony on July 27 to acclimatise to UK conditions. She said Home Secretary Theresa May had failed to ensure enough staff were employed at peak times.
Ms Cooper said: "These figures are a disgrace. With just three weeks to go until the Olympics people are waiting more than two hours at Heathrow, and the targets for Terminal 4 have been breached on 26 of the last 30 days.
"The Home Secretary ought to be able to make sure there are proper security checks without long queues. After all there has been long enough to prepare for the Olympics. Instead, she has cut 900 Border Agency staff and these documents show there are still too few staff in place at peak times.
"When the eyes of the world are on London and everyone has been working so hard to show the world the best of British, the first impression many visitors will get is to stand for hours in a queue.
"Theresa May is allowing border control to become an embarrassment. We need proper security checks and we need to keep people moving. She needs to get this sorted very fast."
Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "A full reading of BAA's latest statistics shows our actions to tackle queues have resulted in real improvement over the last two months - including consistently hitting our targets on UK and EU passengers and reducing waiting times across the board.
"But we're not complacent about some long waiting times, which is why this weekend we have increased staffing numbers by more than 50% at Heathrow to respond to large passengers volumes. That has seen average waiting times of around six minutes for EEA passengers and 22 minutes for those from outside Europe.
"And by the start of peak Olympic arrivals in less than 10 days there will be up to 500 additional staff on our rotas across the country - this includes enough staff at Heathrow to cover every desk during busy times. Additionally we have special lanes in place designated to Olympic athletes to enable them to pass through the border without delay."