UK

Home Office contractor vows ‘full investigation’ in Israel birth certificate row

Sopra Steria said it was treating the incident with ‘the utmost seriousness’.

A Home Office contractor has launched a ‘full investigation’ into reports the word Israel was defaced on a baby’s birth certificate when it was submitted with a passport application
Israeli and UK flags A Home Office contractor has launched a ‘full investigation’ into reports the word Israel was defaced on a baby’s birth certificate when it was submitted with a passport application (Jeff Moore/PA)

A Home Office contractor has launched a “full investigation” into allegations the word Israel was defaced on a baby’s birth certificate when it was submitted with a passport application.

Private company Sopra Steria, which holds a multi-million pound Government contract, said it was “shocked and saddened” by the allegations and is treating the incident with “the utmost seriousness”.

It comes after Home Secretary James Cleverly said staff had been suspended by a “commercial partner” and that the Home Office had launched an urgent review into the claims.

The certificate was sent off as part of a passport application two weeks ago and returned on Monday with the father’s place of birth “scribbled out” and the document torn, charity the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) said.

Sopra Steria told the PA news agency on Thursday: “We are shocked and saddened by these reports and are working closely with the Home Office to ensure appropriate action is taken.

“We have commenced a full investigation into the handling of the documentation and are treating this incident with the utmost seriousness.

“In the interim, one of our service delivery partners has suspended members of staff while the investigation is ongoing.”

A day earlier Mr Cleverly apologised to the family “for the offence caused”, adding: “The matter is totally unacceptable. We will not tolerate antisemitism.”

Both Sopra Steria and the Home Office have refused to say how many staff have been suspended.

The CAA said: “The Home Secretary has rightly apologised on behalf of the department, and we have relayed that apology to the victims. We commend the Home Secretary for acting quickly and forthrightly following this outrageous incident.

“We will be writing to Sopra Steria, which must conduct a full investigation. Their staff deal with some of the most sensitive information about British citizens, which demands the highest standards.

“Clearly, for someone to receive their child’s birth certificate torn, with the parent’s place of birth scribbled out, just because it is the Jewish state, falls well beneath those standards.

“It is gross misconduct, and the company must remove the individual responsible.”

The charity previously posted a photo of the birth certificate online, which they said left the girl’s parents “very concerned”, adding: “Two weeks ago, a member of the public sent off a passport application to @ukhomeoffice for his six-month-old baby girl.

“Today, the birth certificate was returned ripped with the word ‘Israel’ scribbled out. The parents are understandably very concerned about this incident.

“We are asking the Home Office to investigate how this happened. The Home Office has responsibility for law enforcement and the security of the Jewish community.

“Confidence in the authorities is at painfully low levels and must be restored.”

In 2020 Sopra Steria announced it had been awarded a five-year Home Office contract to “deliver a modern, digital service to securely validate and digitise passport application forms and supporting evidence”, adding that the appointment built on a “successful 11-year partnership” with the UK Government’s passport office.

The French technology firm, whose UK head office is in Hemel Hempstead, said it would provide the service alongside storage and information management services company Iron Mountain from two sites in the Hertfordshire town and Corby, Northamptonshire.

The work involves scanning, validating and uploading a digital copy of “key documents for British passport applications” for processing before storing and returning documents to customers, the company said at the time.

When asked the value of its contract with the Home Office, a Sopra Steria spokeswoman said it was £64,557,931.27.

Iron Mountain has been contacted for comment.