Calls for Braverman to resign following Legionella outbreak on the ageing Bibby Stockholm

12 August 2023

The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, is facing heavy criticism and pressure to resign after the Bibby Stockholm was found to be contaminated with Legionella.

The 50 year old barge's water supply is contaminated with potentially deadly Legionella bacteria. It will be out of action for several weeks. The bacteria can cause Legionnaires' disease, a serious lung infection.

The Home Office has removed all 39 asylum seekers and put them into hotels, as there is no housing available.

In 2022, on a similarly ageing cruise ship in the Netherlands, the Liberty Ann, a major Typhoid outbreak infected 52 asylum seekers and 20 staff members who needed hospitalisation. Nearly 350 people were exposed to the potentially deadly bacteria. The outbreak was traced to raw sewage, which was allowed to mix with tanks of fresh water for drinking and cooking on the ship, because of a severely corroded common wall peppered with small holes, leading to sewage contaminating the freshwater.

A public health source said checking a building or a facility for Legionella would have been a “basic foreseeable thing” that any employer or controller of a building should have known and there is “zero excuse” for the barge not being checked first for the bacteria. Employers and building controllers have a legal duty to check for Legionella, under Health and Safety Executive code of practice for buildings, 2013. It is “blindingly obvious” to check showers and air conditioning for Legionella regularly, especially if the units haven’t been used for a while, the source said. Employers and building controllers can be prosecuted for failing to adhere to this code of practice. Local environmental health officers tell hairdressers to flush out their shower hoses after they’ve been closed for a week or two’s holiday, so the Home Office building team should have known, the public health source said. “It is a systemic failure to do the basics,” they added. 

The Fire Brigades Union suggested Ms Braverman had ignored its warnings about the barge. Assistant general secretary Ben Selby said: “The Fire Brigades Union warned the Home Secretary that forcibly holding migrants on this barge was a huge health and safety risk.

“We wrote to Suella Braverman more than a week ago to demand a meeting to discuss these issues. We have had no response to that letter, and our fire safety and operational safety concerns remain.

“It remains our professional view that it’s a potential ‘death trap’ and an accident waiting to happen. However, Suella Braverman and her ministerial colleagues are hellbent on confining vulnerable people in ‘jail-like conditions’ on what is effectively a prison ship.

“This outbreak of Legionella suggests that it’s only a matter of time before either lives are lost or there is serious harm to a detainee.”

The Home Office PR machinery is now claiming that the health and welfare of the individuals on the barge is their "top priority" and that no individuals on board have shown symptoms of Legionnaires' disease.

Asylum seekers who refused to move onto the barge were threatened with eviction and potential destitution. Immigration minister, Robert Jenrick threatened to pull support for anyone who refused to go on the barge. “If you decline the accommodation that’s provided, such as a barge, then we will consider removing your asylum support and that individual will ultimately have to fend for themselves,” he told BBC Radio 4.

Only days earlier, the Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party, Lee Anderson, said after refugees expressed concern about safety on the barge: "If they don't like barges then they should f*** off back to France." 

Anderson has refused to apologise for his incendiary comments, made after a group of 19 refugees were granted a last-minute reprieve as the first group boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset.

According to The Independent newspaper,  Tory MPs branded Anderson a “fascist” who is peddling “cheap populism”, but No 10 said the cabinet minister had been speaking for the government when he backed Mr Anderson. The Independent understands chancellor Jeremy Hunt also backs Mr Chalk’s sentiment that the “f*** off back to France” comments were “not bigotry at all”.

The paper also reported that at least eight cabinet ministers are among senior Tories prepared to put leaving the ECHR at the heart of the next election campaign, according to The Telegraph.

Lord Heseltine told The Independent that pulling out of the convention would “send an appalling signal to the world about Britain’s view of international law”.

The former deputy PM said it was part of the “Brexit disaster”, arguing that the right of the party “know Brexit has failed and is constantly looking for ways to reinforce prejudices”.

In any other profession, if you were incompetent, using racial slurs and ignored basic health and safety and even fire fighters call the boat a death trap due to severe overcrowding and narrow corridors, you would be sacked. Not in government apparently. 

Robina Qureshi

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