Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 February 2020

Jamaican deportation flight for UK offenders departs despite ruling

The British government was forced to remove 25 individuals from the flight following a court order

Campaigners chant slogans outside Downing Street as they protest against government plans to deport 50 people to Jamaica, in London, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. The deportation flight is understood to be leaving the UK early Tuesday AP
Campaigners chant slogans outside Downing Street as they protest against government plans to deport 50 people to Jamaica, in London, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. The deportation flight is understood to be leaving the UK early Tuesday AP

A chartered deportation flight headed for Jamaica has taken off from the UK despite an eleventh-hour court victory for activists campaigning to stop it.

The flight, carrying 17 individuals the UK Home Office said had committed serious offences, departed at 6.30am local time.

Just hours earlier, a judge in the appeal court had ruled that many of the 50 offenders slated for deportation could not be removed.

Lady Justice Simler said the Home Office should not remove anyone "unless satisfied they had access to a functioning, non-O2 Sim card on or before 3 February".

The ruling had been interpreted as a wholesale victory for campaigners from the Detention Action group, which argued the offenders had been denied access to proper legal advice.

However, Downing Street said that 25 individuals had been removed from the flight rather than all of the offenders.

"There are 25 foreign national offenders who the court ruled could not be removed and are therefore still in the country,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.

"We bitterly regret this decision” he added. "We make no apology whatsoever for seeking to remove serious foreign national offenders and will be urgently appealing."

The Home Office has clarified the ruling did not extend to all those scheduled to take off on Tuesday morning.

"The court ruling does not apply to all of the foreign national offenders due to be deported and we are therefore proceeding with the flight," a spokesman said.

Whether or not those on the flight could be deported hinged upon whether mobile phone outages prevented them from receiving proper legal advice.

The Home Office was ordered not to deport those held in detention centres near Heathrow at Colnbrooke and Harmondsworth, where phone coverage had failed.

The Director of Detention Action, Bella Sankey, tweeted in response that the deportation “defies belief”.

However, in an update she clarified that “possibly all” of those covered by the order had “been ultimately removed from the flight”.

Before the dramatic intervention from the appeal court and this morning’s deportation, emotions boiled over in a House of Commons during debates on the issue.

More than 170 British MPs backed a call to halt the flight to the Caribbean, accusing the government of trying to maintain a “hostile environment”.

The deportation has raised the spectre of the 2018 Windrush scandal over the wrongful deportation of 83 people, many of whom were British subjects from the Caribbean who arrived in the UK in the decades immediately after the Second World War.

As with the Windrush deportees, many of those currently facing being returned to Jamaica have a tenuous connection with their country of origin.

One of them, Tajay Thompson, left Jamaica when he was five years old with his family to come to south London.He was convicted of possessing Class A drugs with intent to supply when he was 17 and served half of a 15-month sentence in 2015.

Updated: February 11, 2020 05:28 PM

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