The Home Office should accept responsibility for failing to immediately remove asylum seekers from a giant barge after the detection of a dangerous bacteria, the mayor of Portland has said.

Carralyn Parkes said the “the buck stops with Suella [Braverman]” after Whitehall briefings over the weekend claimed that contractors on the Bibby Stockholm were to blame for delays as it took three days to inform ministers about the outbreak of legionella.

The government had claimed that the use of barges would cut housing bills for asylum seekers, but was forced to remove all 39 onboard on Friday.

Over the weekend, the Home Office was involved in a “blame game” over the response. Briefings have claimed that the local council told two contractors about the outbreak on Monday, but ministers were not informed until late on Thursday.

Parkes said that the public expects politicians and the government to take responsibility for their decisions. “The Home Office moved people on to the barge and it is the Home Office that should take full responsibility for it,” she said.

“The buck stops with the Home Office and Suella Braverman. The department may not have had sight of the appropriate test results but it was up to the department to make sure that they were informed and removed asylum seekers off the barge as soon as they discovered there was a dangerous bacteria onboard.”

Dorset council’s environmental health officers conducted a test for the bacteria, which thrives in stagnant water, on 25 July. On 7 August, as the first asylum seekers were taken on to the barge, the Home Office’s contractors, CTM and Landry and Kling, were informed that the tests showed significant evidence of legionella, the council said.

The council insists that it told a Home Office official about the outbreak in a meeting on 8 August – a claim that is neither confirmed nor denied by anyone in government. The government, however, has said that Home Office ministers were not told about the outbreak until the night of 10 August, and the asylum seekers were removed the following day.

A former head of the body that oversaw tests for bacteria in Portland harbour said the Home Office “has serious questions to answer” and must take responsibility for any failings of its contractors.

Paul Kimber, chair of Weymouth Port Health Authority for 10 years until 2019, said: “It is not unusual to have a water fail on a vessel but it is unusual to ignore the test. The people on board – both the refugees and the workers onboard – should have been alerted straight away.”

A document leaked to the Telegraph indicates that there were plans for 1,000 people to move to Portland – a move which would have ensured that the scheme was value for money. Written in March by a civil servant, it says: ‘We are broadly content that all tests are met as long as Portland capacity is 1,000 to ensure [value for money].”

Until now, the Home Office has said that about 500 asylum seekers will be sent to the port, a decision which has sparked protests. The Home Office declined to comment on a leaked document.

Questions have been asked about whether the government contract to place asylum seekers on the barge should have been signed until a legionnaire’s report had been completed.

The BBC has tweeted an extract from the procurement rules that state a legionnaire’s report is one of the requirements for government contracting venues, along with other safety measures including an evacuation policy and a fire risk assessment. However, Home Office sources said that the Bibby Stockholm contract was a modified rather than a standard contract, which would be published in due course.

In a parliamentary answer to a question by Conservative MP for West Dorset Chris Loder immigration minister Robert Jenrick said on 24 July “no individuals will be placed on the vessel unless it is safe to do so and all the legal and regulatory requirements are met”.

But even after the Home Office was informed about legionella they continued to provide the same written assurances. In a letter to the organisation Migrants Rights Network dated 10 August, a Home Office official wrote in response to concerns about the barge: “The Bibby Stockholm has also been subject to Lloyds Register quality assurance inspection and certification and regulatory inspection by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency in order to fulfil its permitted purpose. I hope my response addresses your concerns.”

Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control also raised concerns about the high risks of accommodating asylum seekers on the barge even if the water pipes are thoroughly flushed.

It now remains unclear when the asylum seekers will return to the barge, with No 10 refusing to give a timeline as officials await the result of further tests.

Downing Street on Monday insisted that the prime minister retained confidence in Braverman.

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