he Government’s plan to accommodate asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge could face a legal challenge as firefighters accused ministers of a “callous disregard” for the safety of those onboard.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has sent a “pre-action protocol letter” to Home Secretary Suella Braverman outlining its concerns over safety aboard the vessel moored in Dorset’s Portland Port.
The union previously branded the giant barge, initially designed for about 200 people but modified to house 500 migrants, a “potential death trap”.
The first asylum seekers placed on board Bibby Stockholm earlier this month were removed days later after tests revealed Legionella – the bacteria which can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease.
The FBU is demanding a response to its legal letter by Thursday.
General secretary Matt Wrack said: “The Fire Brigades Union is the professional voice of firefighters, and we have a duty to make our voices heard on matters of fire safety, especially when politicians let our members and the wider public down. We have been sounding the alarm about the Bibby Stockholm for weeks.
“It is disgraceful that the Home Secretary is not even willing to meet us to discuss these concerns. Throughout this episode, the Government has displayed a lack of transparency and a callous disregard for the safety of both firefighters and those who are due to be housed on the barge.
“Fires do not discriminate based on immigration status, and neither can fire safety regulations.
“Everyone, no matter where they are from, has the right to live in safe and decent accommodation, and firefighters have the right to expect that they will not be recklessly endangered.
“This is an industrial issue for the Fire Brigades Union, as our members are the ones expected to respond to any fire aboard the Bibby Stockholm. We have therefore decided to move towards a legal challenge on this matter.”
The FBU has raised concerns about access to fire exits and possible overcrowding on the vessel.
The Bibby Stockholm is one of several sites, which also include former military bases, ministers want to use to house migrants as they await asylum decisions in an effort to cut the cost of putting them up in hotels and deter entries into the UK via unauthorised means.
The potential legal challenge comes after the 39 migrants on the vessel were removed after Legionella was detected on the vessel earlier this month.
In response, Rishi Sunak defended the policy which is estimated to cost the taxpayer £20,000 a day, adding: “I know there is a long way to go on this but I’m determined to fix this problem and we are making progress and people can be reassured we will keep at it.”
Home Office data this week showed Channel crossings topped 19,000 for the year so far, despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge that he will “stop the boats”.
The Home Office has been approached for comment.