The Home Office contractors were informed that potentially lethal legionella bacteria had been discovered on the Bibby Stockholm just hours after asylum seekers were brought on board the barge.
Dorset council alerted the barge contractors about the results of the legionella tests on the same day they received them, which was Monday, August 7th. This raises concerns about the four-day delay in evacuating 39 individuals from the barge.
Initially, the government indicated that further testing was necessary to determine the severity of the legionella levels and the associated risk.
Sources from the UK Health Security Agency confirmed that the only available legionella test results for the Home Office, Dorset council, UKHSA, and the Home Office contractors operating the barge were those provided to Dorset council on Monday, August 7th. Ongoing tests are being conducted to measure the levels of legionella bacteria in the water on the Bibby Stockholm.
On Sunday evening, Dorset council confirmed to The Guardian that it informed the Home Office contractors about the legionella issue on the same day they received the test results. The exact timing of when the contractors notified the Home Office remains unclear.
Carralyn Parkes, a Portland councillor pursuing legal action against the Home Office regarding the barge, questioned the delay in evacuating the asylum seekers. She pointed out that the legionella test results were received on Monday and wondered why immediate action wasn’t taken to move the asylum seekers off the barge.
The first group of asylum seekers boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland on the same day the presence of legionella was confirmed.
A spokesperson for Dorset council stated that officials promptly informed the barge contractors about the legionella test results on the day of receipt. However, the asylum seekers remained on the barge until Friday, August 11th.
Legionella can pose a health hazard if found in water pipes that haven’t been used for a while. The asylum seekers were the first to use showers on the barge after a period of inactivity, unaware of the potential danger of inhaling the bacteria.
Home Office sources acknowledged a delay in the contractors relaying the information to them. While environmental health officers collected further samples on August 9th, the results of these tests are pending.
Dorset council didn’t notify UKHSA about their concerns regarding the test results until the evening of August 9th.
On August 10th, UKHSA arranged an incident management meeting involving representatives from the NHS, Dorset council, and the Home Office. It was recommended that no more people be transferred onto the barge until a risk assessment was conducted, a decision later confirmed in writing to the Home Office. Another incident management meeting and risk assessment occurred later that day.
A spokesperson for Dorset council clarified that they received preliminary sample results on August 7th and informed the barge contractors, who were responsible for the Home Office, on the same day. They emphasized that the contractor’s duty was to keep the Home Office informed.
Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, raised serious questions about the government’s awareness of the legionella risk when deciding to send asylum seekers to the barge.
Brian Dikoff of Migrants Organise, supporting some of the evacuated asylum seekers, criticized the government and Home Office for their inability to execute the plan effectively and for disregarding the lives of the asylum seekers and the local community.
The barge subcontractors, Landry & Kling, stated that they are collaborating closely with local authorities to ensure safe and suitable housing solutions for service users. They maintained that they followed all recommendations from Dorset council environmental health.
A Home Office spokesperson assured that the well-being of asylum seekers is a top priority. All asylum seekers from the Bibby Stockholm have been disembarked as a precaution and relocated to alternative accommodations. The Home Office and their contractors are adhering to protocols and advice from Dorset council’s environmental health team, the UK Health Security Agency, and Dorset NHS, with whom they are closely cooperating.