The Government has proceeded with a planned deportation flight to Jamaica despite a court ruling and outrage that many had been deprived of the right to prepare legal representations. The flight departed early on Tuesday morning despite the Court of Appeal ordering many of the detainees should not be deported amid concerns over their access to legal advice.
Downing Street said 17 people were on the flight while 25 remained in the UK because of the Court of Appeal ruling. Asked how many people were on board the flight, Chancellor Sajid Javid told Sky News: “I don’t know the exact number but I think it is around 20 – or above 20.”
The Home Office confirmed to The London Economic that 17 people had been deported and it would be seeking to remove the rest despite legal appeals. The Home Secretary Priti Patel on Monday avoided MPs’ questions on the Government’s official line about those they sought to deport.
Reports emerged late on Monday night that people detained for removal on a controversial deportation flight to Jamaica were being readied for a flight on Tuesday despite a High Court order. Some were put on coaches and taken to all the way to Doncaster airport despite a Court of Appeal ruling that they should not be removed if they were unable to speak to lawyers on the phone, while the Government attempted to challenge it.
Toufique Hossain, one of the lawyers who won the appeal called for the immediate release of clients traumatised by the experience who were not put on the flights eventually but were still being detained. He tweeted: “So the Home Office in failed appeal said “The Defendant would not be able to remove them at all or until another charter flight was organised, which may not be for a significant period of time.” These people now need to be released from detention.”
Earlier on Monday evening, Hossain of Duncan Lewis Solicitors won a court order against removing people who had been deprived of legal representation due to their mobile phones not working. Lawyers for the charity Detention Action argued that the deportees had been denied access to justice because they had not had properly working mobile phones following problems with an O2 telecoms mast.
The Court of Appeal ordered the Home Office not to remove anyone on the flight due to fly 50 people to Jamaica – a country many had not been to since coming to the UK as children – if they did not have a functioning non-O2 Sim card from February 3 so were unable to communicate with a lawyer.
“These people are as British as Boris Johnson, that’s the truth,” Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action told Newsnight after the court victory. “They have families and British wives and British children who would be massively detrimentally affected by this.”
The Home Office confirmed the Government is determined to remove those who had not flown on Tuesday morning, despite growing outrage and a Government-commissioned report into the Windrush scandal recommending people who arrived in UK as children should not be subjected to such treatment. A spokesperson told the London Economic:
“Today 17 serious foreign criminals were deported from the UK. They were convicted of rape, violent crimes and drug offences and had a combined sentence length of 75 years, as well as a life sentence. We make no apology whatsoever for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals.
“We will be urgently pursuing the removal of those who were prevented from boarding the flight due to a legal challenge over a mobile network failure.”
Home Office bundles people onto coaches despite Court of Appeal order
Bella Sankey said the court’s decision was a “victory for access to justice, fairness and the rule of law”, and said it meant that no one currently detained at two immigration detention centres near Heathrow, which were the subject of the challenge, should be removed on Tuesday’s flight.
However, despite the court order, people were being removed from Harmondsworth and Colnbrook -the detention centres near Heathrow and bundled onto a coach late on Monday night. By the early hours of the morning, a coach had already left the detention centres.
On chartered flights people are usually shackled and accompanied by guards. Among those set to fly are many with UK families and those who have lived in the UK since early childhood. Over 40 children would be separated from a parent if all were removed on the flight.
‘They took people with non-violent first offences who grew up here, and claimed they were serious criminals’
There were reports of riot police arriving to facilitate the removal of people from Brook House Detention Centre near Gatwick, where many had also complained of difficulties gaining access to legal representation before the flight.
It appears that the Government had appealed against the Court of Appeal ruling, but between midnight and 1AM it emerged that their attempt to overturn the judgement had been refused. However people were still on coaches at the time.
According to Duncan Lewis Solicitors who worked through the night, “at around 1AM the Court of Appeal refused further relief to the remaining detainees due to be removed at 6.30am.” According to the solicitors acting for Detention Action, the Home Office conceded that at least half of the 50 due to be removed who were kept in the detention centres of Harmondsworth and Colnbrook with limited phone access would benefit, several others due to be deported obtained injunctions, and some had removal deferred.
“There needs to be a full review of the circumstances leading up to the charter flight,” Duncan Lewis added in a statement on social media at 1.45AM. “Devastatingly, we have failed to stop the removal of remaining Brook House detainees. The judicial review challenge continues.”
According to Movement for Justice, who have been in touch with many detained, detainees include at least eight people who have never been back to Jamaica since coming to the UK, a young man who spent most of his childhood in care, one who coached kids playing football after his release. And one who completed their sentence in 2004, has not offended since, raised three step kids and has two young children with his disabled partner of 12 years.
“The actions of the government have demonstrated every step of the way that they have no interest in truth or justice. They have used these 50 plus people as pawns in their pursuit of looking tough,” Movement For Justice Chair Antonia Bright told The London Economic in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
“They took people with non-violent first offences who grew up here, and claimed they were ‘serious criminals’. When the phones in detention didn’t work blocking access family or lawyers or due process, the Home Office refused to delay. When the Court of Appeal ordered them to delay, at midnight they still appealed while taking the people in coaches anyway – in defiance of the injunction! The Government is the guilty party here – and they have proven their racist opportunism for all to see.”
She added: “The turning point has been the relentless determination of the movement to fight back by exposing the truth and mobilising, from inside and outside detention centres. That has inspired our communities, the lawyers who stayed up all night, the MP’s who have spoken the truth about racism in parliament.”
Earlier in the evening more large protests blocked off parts of Whitehall as people marched from Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament to protest against the flight that many see as adding an extra punishment to people who have lived in the UK among British families for most of their lives.
170 MPs and peers issue warning as Priti Patel dodges questions
Over 170 MPs and peers wrote to Boris Johnson on Monday asking him to halt the flight. The letter organised by Labour MP Nadia Whittome warned of the “unacceptable risk” of removing anyone with a potential Windrush claim.
The Labour MP for Nottingham East wrote: “The fact is that many of the individuals in question have lived in the UK since they were children and at least 41 British children are now at risk of losing their fathers through this charter flight. The Government risks repeating the mistakes of the Windrush scandal unless it cancels this flight and others like it until the Windrush Lessons Learned Review has been published and its recommendations implemented.”
An early leak of the Government review commissioned in the wake of the Windrush scandal called for to such deportations to be reconsidered, especially for those who had come to Britain as children. An extract of the draft report released last week recommended the government stop the practice of deporting people who have been in the UK since childhood, which makes the charter flight was in violation of the review findings.
David Lammy called on the Home Secretary Priti Patel to explain why the flight is going ahead when the Government said it would suspend such chartered flights while conducting a review into the Windrush Scandal. But Priti Patel walked out of the chamber without answering the Tottenham MP to shouts of “shame.”
The Home Secretary dodged questions in parliament on Monday, leaving junior Home Office minister Kevin Foster to face outrage from MPs. He insisted that all those on board are “serious criminals” and had served over a year in prison, however many have committed only minor offences, one jailed as a teen would have been unlikely to have been jailed under today’s laws.
One due to be bundled onto the flight to Jamaica had not served a year or over as the Home Office minister had misled MPs in the House of Commons. Reshawn Davis, 30, who came to the UK aged 11 and has a British baby served two months as a teen under the “joint enterprise” law which would not stand in court today when he would not have been jailed.
However Boris Johnson insisted the told MPs “the people of this country will think it right to send back foreign national offenders.”
Shadow Immigration Minister Labour’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy said such mass deportation flights were “the most brutal and inhuman way to remove people from this country”.
She added: “It often lacks due process, has little regard for deportees safety, and even less for their right to a family life. Both the Home Office and the Prime Minister do not appear to even have the correct information on those due on the flight. We are calling on the Government to halt all charter flight deportations until it publishes its Windrush lessons learned review. After the Windrush scandal, we expect better. But this Government will stop at nothing to maintain its hostile environment.”