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Government promises data anonymity for Grenfell victims



No 10 says any information on people caught up in the tower block fire will not be used in immigration checks

Data transfer rules have been lifted for victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, after immigrants said they were too scared to seek help.

Under pressure from support groups, Downing Street agreed that information obtained by the Metropolitan Police would not be passed onto the Home Office for possible further action.

The move came after community leaders in West London said many foreign nationals who lived in Grenfell Tower with uncertain migration status had simply “disappeared”.

They were not on any missing lists, raising concerns that they had fled the site if they had survived the fire, despite losing everything and desperately needing help.

The Home Office, under Theresa May’s leadership, introduced rules requiring other public authorities to pass on data obtained from immigrants, even when the legality of such transfers was contested. Most controversy has centred on a memorandum of understanding that has led to about 10,000 people a year traced by the Home Office through NHS Digital.

After questions from journalists, a No 10 spokesman said: “The Met have given an absolute commitment that, if anybody who may be living here illegally rings the special hotline set up for victims, they will take no action. There will be no attempt to find them and nothing will be done with the information beyond removing them from the list of potential fatalities.”

Prime minister's promise

In addition, the prime minister said in the House of Commons that the Government would not “carry out immigration checks on those involved, or on those providing vital information to identify victims, or those assisting with the criminal investigation”.

“We will make sure that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, will be able to access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation,” she said.

Concerns remain that many people affected by the tragedy are avoiding any contact with public sector agencies because of fears that information will be passed to the Home Office. One local volunteer told The Independent that she had been told of many undocumented migrants living in the flats who had “deliberately disappeared” following the blaze, including a large group of Filipinos.

Some support groups believe that underreporting of illegal subtenants means the true death toll is higher than the official figure of 79.

Last month, Public Health England (PHE) said it feared the handing over to the Home Office of personal data from patients – again, to crack down on illegal immigration – would have “unintended serious consequences”. And in April the former head of NHS Digital said the Home Office, under Mrs May, imposed “immense pressure” to release data on immigrants despite his protests that it could be illegal.

Kingsley Manning said he was challenged for questioning if there was a legal basis for handing over the confidential patient data, which would help the Home Office trace people suspected of being in the country illegally.

Picture by Chiral John, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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