A coach used by Border Agency workers to commute to France could have provided a route for hundreds of illegal immigrants into Britain.
A stowaway was seen fleeing from the coach in Folkestone, Kent, at the end of last month, in what appeared to be a one-off incident.
But a source close to the Border Agency has told the Mail this was just the tip of the iceberg, calling the coach a 'magnet for illegals' trying to sneak into the UK.
The authorities have since discovered two overlooked hiding places either side of the coach's fuel tanks, where up to four stowaways can ride at a time.
And because its passengers are immigration officials, the vehicle is routinely waved through border checks.
It follows a predictable route and timetable and stands out as it is virtually the only coach without markings.
It is understood that the Border Agency specified the vehicle should have no logos to prevent identification, but this has had the opposite effect.
Since last month's incident, three more illegals have been caught trying to hide on the coach in France.
And when it was later parked in a 'secure' spot within Channel Tunnel land to deter stowaways, two more illegals were arrested breaking into the area to reach it.
However, the source suggested the practice could have been going on undetected for years.
The coach has been ferrying border officers between Folkestone and Coquelles, at the Channel Tunnel entrance near Calais, for 365 days a year since 2006.
The source said: 'A large group of Border Agency staff have been staying every night for years at The Suite hotel in Coquelles - and the coach has always parked outside overnight.
'Some illegals have clearly discovered a new hiding place in it that no one had thought of before.
'The beauty of it is twofold. Firstly, in immigration officers' training, they are not trained to search for this space in a coach because no one had thought of it.
'Secondly, the coach is full of immigration offficers, so it's waved straight through by their colleagues at passport control.'
The source continued: 'I would not be surprised if the immigration service coach and its secret hiding place had been common knowledge among illegals for years.
'The driver has said he's seen illegals by the side of the road waving at him and giving him the thumbs up for months. Only now do we know why.
'It is very unusual to have a plain white coach, it sticks out like a sore thumb. It's like a big white magnet for illegals.'
The source added that some immigration officers sometimes drive to Coquelles in their own cars and illegals are believed to have stowed away in these, knowing they will be waved through.
The Head of Border Force for the UK Border Agency, Brodie Clark, confirmed that the hiding place by the fuel tank was only discovered after the incident last month and that more illegals have since been caught trying to sneak into it.
Mr Clark said: 'We have successfully prevented attempts to enter the UK illegally using the UKBA contracted coach. Those found in Calais were prevented from reaching the UK.
'Since the specifics of this coach design were identified as a potential risk we are not aware of any successful attempts to reach the UK in this manner.
'Last year we prevented 28,000 attempts by illegal migrants to enter the UK.
'This is further evidence of our commitment to improving border security and responding to the evolving threat posed by increasingly desperate migrants.'
Monday, 17 August 2009
An article in today's Daily Mail suggests that illegal immigrants in Calais have been specifically targeting vehicles which are used to transport UK Border Agency employees to France - because they know they will just be waved through the normal checks.