The Home Office is investigating reports that dozens of asylum-seeking children have been kidnapped by gangs from a Hove hotel run by the department, a minister has said.
Conservative frontbencher Lord Murray of Blidworth said that the Home Office “doesn’t know of any cases of kidnap” and he understood “nothing like that” had been reported to it.
But the Home Office minister confirmed that the reports were the “subject of an investigation”.
An investigation by The Observer cited child protection sources and a whistleblower working for a Home Office contractor.
They said that youngsters had been abducted off the street outside the Hove hotel and bundled into cars.
Lord Murray told the House of Lords that 200 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children remain missing after initially being accommodated in hotels since July 2021, adding that 88 per cent (176) were Albanian nationals.
Speaking during an urgent question session, Labour’s home affairs spokesman Lord Coaker said: “We’re all horrified about what we’ve heard and read about these cases of children going missing – and I will use the term kidnapped – from some of these homes.
“Is it true that the Home Office was warned months ago about these problems? Is it true that the Home Office ignored those warnings and failed to act. Because if it is, it’s a failure of the state to act as a parent.
“And with Home Office sources denying these children have been kidnapped, can the minister at least confirm that the department accepts legal responsibility for their safety now even if they didn’t in the past?”
Lord Murray said: “Certainly the department doesn’t know of any cases of kidnap.
“The reports in the media over the weekend are, of course, the subject of investigation within the Home Office – but at the moment nothing like that has been reported to us, to my knowledge.”
Earlier, Lord Murray told peers: “The Department for Education collects data annually on the number of all looked after children in England, including those who are missing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
“We, the Home Office, have no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in these hotels and we do know that some of them go missing.
“Many of those who have gone missing are subsequently traced and located, as I’ve already said.
“The numbers are as follows: over 4,600 children have been accommodated in hotels since they were opened in July 2021.
“Some 440 missing episodes, that’s the term, an episode, used as some children have gone missing and then been located and subsequently gone missing a second time or more often.
“All of those 440 have been male save for four who have been female. Two hundred of the children remain missing and only one of these is female.
“Of the 200 that remain missing, 88 per cent are Albanian nationals. And of the 200 missing, 13 are under the age of 16.”