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Meeting erupts into asylum fury

A PUBLIC meeting about the future of a north Kent hotel turned into a protest about asylum seekers.

The meeting was called by Swale Borough Council to give Sittingbourne residents the opportunity to voice their concerns about the Coniston Hotel being used as an induction centre for asylum seekers.

But most of the 300-strong crowd used it as a chance to express general concerns about asylum seekers.

Angry residents also called for the council's chief executive Chris Edwards to resign and members of the Home Office were heckled throughout the two-hour meeting at Wyvern Hall in Sittingbourne on Friday.

But Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Derek Wyatt (Lab) was cheered for standing up to his own government over the asylum fiasco.

Bill Jeffrey, director general of the Immigration Nationality Directorate, came under pressure to explain the actions of the National Asylum Support Service.

Many people tackled the panel, which included representatives from Swale police, Kent County Council and Swale Primary Care Trust, about Britain's policy towards asylum seekers.

Shouts of "resign" were frequently directed at Mr Edwards although he claimed to have done nothing wrong.

Some people felt he should have spoken out about Home Office plans for an induction centre at the Coniston when he found out in September 2002.

But Mr Edwards said: "I did what I thought was right at that time. Subject to the conditions in the letter, I couldn't have done anything else."

The Home Office agreed to undertake proper consultation over the Coniston but Mr Wyatt called for an independent consultation as well.

• All asylum seekers would be locked up until cleared by the security services under Tory plans announced today.

Britain's international obligations to would-be refugees could also be dropped by a Conservative government.

Prime Minister Tony Blair was attacked from all sides after suggesting he might order a similar re-examination of human rights laws.

But the Tory proposals go further, pledging an "urgent review" of all asylum treaties, including the 1951 Geneva Convention.

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