05:42, February 11 300 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-11 05:42:08
Jamaica deportation flight leaves with 'about 20' people

A planned deportation flight to Jamaica has taken off but with fewer than half of those due to have been on board after a court upheld a legal challenge.

As the government came under fire for proceeding with the flight, it was defended on Tuesday by the chancellor, who said those onboard were not members of the Windrush generation but offenders who posed a risk to the public.

“These are all foreign national offenders – they have all received custodial sentences of 12 months or more. They are responsible for crimes like manslaughter, rape, dealing in class A drugs,” Sajid Javid told BBC Radio 5 Live.

Asked how many people were onboard, he said he did not know the exact number but believed it was “around 20, or above 20.” Approximately 56 people were originally thought to have been due to be deported.

On Monday night, a court of appeal judge ordered the Home Office not to carry out the scheduled deportation amid concerns mobile phone outages had prevented detainees from having access to legal advice.

Lady Justice Simler said those detainees should not be removed unless the Home Office was satisfied they “had access to a functioning, non-O2 Sim card on or before 3 February”.

The action had been brought because there has been a problem with the O2 phone network in the Heathrow detention centres since last month, meaning many detainees had been unable to exercise their legal right to contact their lawyers.

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, described the departure of the flight as an “outrage”. In the House of Commons on Monday he called for the flight to be halted amid concerns some onboard may have arrived in the UK as children, and that more than 40 British children could be separated from their fathers.

“The government is deporting people who arrived in the UK as young as two, often for one-time drug offences,” he tweeted, linking to an article he wrote for the Guardian.

“The lessons from Windrush have not been learned. Lives are being ruined because we don’t remember our history.”

On the Kay Burley at Breakfast show on Sky News, the chancellor had been asked if he was sorry about one of the cases being a 23-year-old who spent 15 months in jail after being convicted age 17 for drug offences. He had come to the UK aged five. “We’re not even saying sorry,” the Javid said.

Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, said the campaign group believed that some of the people who were due for deportation were not on the flight because they were covered by a court of appeal order.

She said: “We understand that some, possibly all, of these individuals may have been ultimately removed from the flight but we are currently trying to clarify this. We are trying to ensure that all of those covered by the protection of the court were not removed and that the government did not breach the court order.

“We think that what is most likely is that people were taken from [immigration removal centre] Brook House and put on the flight and those are the people who have probably gone because that detention centre was not covered by the order.”

The Home Office had argued the flight was specifically for deporting foreign national offenders, adding that those detained for removal include people convicted of manslaughter, rape, violent crime and dealing class A drugs.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “Our thoughts are with the families who have just been forced apart by the government, with the children who have lost their fathers, with the women who’ve become single mothers overnight.

“It’s deeply unjust if people who grew up here, whose lives and families are here, can be exiled to a country which is totally foreign to them. They are British in every meaningful way and if the law allows those people to be exiled, it needs to change.”

Earlier, Sankey said removing those detainees would have meant the Home Office was breaking the law.

She tweeted: “We are speaking to individuals clearly covered by the court of appeal order prohibiting their deportation who have been removed to the airport and told they are being deported. ukhomeoffice are you really going to try and break the law tonight?”