Angry passengers fought with border officials and pushed their way through passport checks at Birmingham Airport after being forced to queue for almost two hours.
Details of the extraordinary scenes, which, it is understood, led to the suspension of a senior UK Border Agency officer, came to light as Birmingham Airport was at the centre of fresh allegations about mayhem in Britain’s immigration system.
An influential Commons inquiry published a damning new report warning that border staff are refusing to use new “e-gates” which are supposed to check traveller’s passports using state-of-the-art technology.
And iris scanners, which are supposed to identify frequent travellers by checking their iris against a database, have been scrapped after they led to lengthy queues, the Home Affairs Select Committee has warned.
Business leaders in Birmingham warned that travellers coming in to the country should be offered a warm welcome – not confronted by scenes of chaos or faced by huge waits.
It follows a series of security breaches at Birmingham. Border security is the responsibility of the Home Office, rather than the airport itself.
Hundreds of passengers stormed through border controls on March 29 when a computer crash prevented automatic passport checks from working.
Fresh details have emerged after senior business figure Alan Fitzpatrick, one of the founders of Chamberlain Hotels, told the Birmingham Post about his experience as he flew in.
After being forced to stand in a queue for almost two hours, four male passengers took matters into their own hands, he said.
“One of them said ‘we are going through – come with us if you like’.
“They weren’t rough guys. They seemed perfectly sensible. They just said that if they were determined to get out then who could stop them?
“There was some pushing and shoving with the officials in their yellow jackets. One of the border staff was grappling with a woman. Eventually the staff decided to just stand aside and let people though. It was the first time in my life I’ve seen an incident like that.”
Border staff then decided to check passports the old-fashioned way, by manually checking photographs, Mr Fitzpatrick said.
“What I don’t understand is why they couldn’t have taken the decision to do that much sooner.”
He criticised airport chief executive Paul Kehoe, who visited the queuing passengers to see what was happening but appeared powerless to help.
“It is true that the Border Agency is responsible for passport checks but if you are the chief executive then you need to show some initiative.”
A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said EU passport holders were allowed to proceed after giving their names and passport numbers so future checks could be carried out while non-EU passport holders were made to wait. He refused to comment on reports that a senior member of UK Border Agency staff has been suspended pending an investigation.
A spokesman for Birmingham Airport, said: “The technical difficulties experienced by the Border Force on Thursday March 29 resulted in a brief interruption to normal service and unfortunately some of our passengers were delayed in the immigration hall.
“During this time, staff at Birmingham Airport, including the Airport’s CEO, Paul Kehoe, made every effort to ease the situation by reassuring passengers as they waited and even provided refreshments.
“The UK Border Agency is solely responsible for Passport Control, therefore the Airport has limited power to resolve any issues in this area. However, we continue to work in partnership with the UK Border Agency, to provide our passengers with the best possible service.”
The latest blunder comes after immigration officials at Birmingham Airport abandoned checks for suspected terrorists and criminals last year for “health and safety” reasons.