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FBU launches legal challenge to Government over Bibby Stockholm barge

04 September 2023

THE FIRE Brigades Union (FBU) has now launched a legal challenge over the Bibby Stockholm, the three-storey barge currently berthed in Portland Port, Dorset and which is intended to hold around 500 individuals while they await the outcome of their asylum applications.

Photograph: Ashley Smith. Reproduced under CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In a Pre-Action Protocol letter sent by the FBU’s lawyers to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, the Trade Union outlined its concerns over safety aboard the barge and required response by 4.00 pm on 31 August.

As reported by Fire Safety Matters, the Trade Union had previously written to the Home Secretary asking for a meeting to discuss its concerns, but the request for that meeting was turned down.

The first asylum seekers were moved on to the barge at the beginning of August, although they were later removed when the Legionella bacteria, which can cause serious illness, was detected.

Sounding the alarm

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The Fire Brigades Union is the professional voice of firefighters. We have a duty to make our voices heard on matters of fire safety, and especially so when politicians let our members and the wider public down. We have been sounding the alarm about the Bibby Stockholm for weeks.”  

Wrack continued: “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 firefighters and those who are due to be housed on the barge.”

Further, Wrack noted: “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, while firefighters have the right to expect that they will not be recklessly endangered when going about their work.”

In conclusion, Wrack observed: “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.”

Political attack

In the letter to the Home Office, lawyers for the FBU have cited media reports which said the Bibby Stockholm had only 222 single-occupancy rooms on board, but that additional beds had been placed in each in order to ramp up the capacity to 506 beds.

Speaking on BBC One’s Breakfast programme, the Home Secretary stated: “I’m confident that the barge is safe. This barge has accommodated people in the past, including asylum seekers and oil rig workers. Barges of this kind have been used to accommodate asylum seekers.”

According to the BBC, Braverman has accused the FBU of “carrying out a political attack” on the Government. “They want to stop us, just like we're dealing with the range of forces who want to stop us from stopping the boats. They're all gleeful about the prospect of us not putting people on the barge.”