Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cost cutting paves way for escapes, says Serco worker

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Loose: Carlo Konstantin Kohl is on the run.

A whistleblower employee of a security company with a $1.8 billion Australian government contract says its managers routinely underplay the risks of guarding asylum seekers and prisoners to cut costs, putting the public at risk.

German-born criminal Carlo Konstantin Kohl escaped from Bangkok airport two weeks ago, while he was guarded by two Serco staff members.

Documents show Kohl had a history of violence, had been addicted to drugs and was rated as ''dangerous'' under the Aviation Transport Security Regulations. They also show the two Serco guards, a man and woman, who were assigned to travel with him on commercial flights from Australia to Germany, were given documents telling them he was unlikely to attempt to escape or to ''commit an unlawful interference with aviation''.

A Thai police investigation found the guards were asleep when Kohl wandered around the airport before escaping through a fire exit door on May 16.

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He is still at large in Thailand and there is a reward for his capture.

The whistleblower, who holds a senior position in Serco Asia Pacific, which provides security for immigration detention centres, has leaked in-confidence documents to Fairfax Media detailing how the company misjudged recent operations that led to escapes.

''The operational plans are always incomplete and usually just a cut-and-paste job,'' said the whistleblower working in the company's transport and escort branch.

''This is what they have been directed to do to save time … the director calls it generic cost-effective planning.''

Documents show three Serco staff were assigned to escort 18 Vietnamese detainees from an immigration detention centre in Darwin to church on April 28. The group included Van Binh Tran, who was assessed as a ''medium risk''.

Tran and another prisoner, Van Hung Ngyuen, escaped during Mass, while the guards smoked and talked outside, said the whistleblower, who asked for anonymity.

Despite that escape, only six Serco guards were assigned to 28 Vietnamese detainees during a trip from the Darwin immigration centre to a clinic for X-rays when six of them escaped on May 21.

''The planning and risk assessments were not done,'' the whistleblower said.

The whistleblower also claimed an inadequate security assessment was made for career criminal and heroin addict Solomon Baker, who fell to his death at a hospital in Liverpool on April 19.

Baker, 33, who was being deported to PNG after living in Australia since he was a child, had warned Serco staff at Sydney's Villawood detention centre in 2011 he was prepared to use ''any violence required'' to avoid being returned to his home country after he had punched a guard 10 times.

He attacked two staff at the hospital before he died.

The whistleblower said he decided to break the company's secrecy rules ''in the hope the attention will force Serco to improve and stop thinking about the bottom line and more about the big picture''.

Serco spokesman Paul Shaw said the company was committed to preventing escapes and protecting staff and those in detention from coming to harm.

Mr Shaw said two people had been suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

A Senate estimates hearing was told on Tuesday there were 25 asylum seekers still at large of 63 who had escaped immigration detention centres guarded by Serco in the past year.

Fairfax Media revealed last month Serco's contracts with the government had blown out by $1.5 billion as the border protection system was strained by the increased flows of asylum seekers.


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