Deportation flight to Jamacia leaves UK after 43 granted last-minute reprieve

11 August 2021, 06:50 | Updated: 11 August 2021, 19:03

The efforts of the Home Office were frustrated by legal challenges
The efforts of the Home Office were frustrated by legal challenges. Picture: Alamy
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A UK deportation flight to Jamaica left with just seven "foreign criminals" on board after 43 were granted a last-minute legal reprieve, the Home Office has said.

The flight, which was originally due to carry 50 people, is understood to have taken off in the early hours of Wednesday.

Campaigners had been trying to halt the flight amid concerns over the Windrush scandal.

There have been claims some of those on board may have a right to British citizenship, while there were also fears over coronavirus.

Some MPs called on the Government to review the flight, with Labour's Diane Abbott calling mass deportations "cruel, arbitrary, a double punishment and expensive".

But the Home Office branded the individuals foreign offenders "who broke our laws, abused our hospitality, and have no place in our society".

Those on board had been convicted of offences such as rape, sexual offences against children, assault and possession of offensive weapons, the department said.

It also insisted "no-one on the flight was born in the UK" and "all those returned are Jamaican nationals".

The Home Office added that there had been "extensive checks" carried out to make sure none of the people on the flight were eligible for the Windrush scheme, adding: "None of those deported were British Citizens, British Nationals or members of the Windrush generation."

Campaigners say some may have come to the UK as children. The department is yet to confirm whether this is the case, but said a person's age upon arrival in the UK or their nationality are not exceptions to automatic deportation.

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The Home Office said the 43 offenders who had originally been due to fly had sentences totalling "245 years and included crimes such murder, attempted murder, rape, sex offences against minors, drugs and firearms offences. Of those last-minute barriers, 18 cases were only made in the final 24 hours prior to deportation."

The Government said all those on board would have been sentenced to 12 months or more behind bars to qualify to be deported.

It also said it offered everyone on the flight a coronavirus test, but did not confirm whether all those on board were tested - and produced negative results - before take-off.

Face masks were due to be worn, unless there was an exemption, and social distancing would be adhered to, a Home Office spokeswoman added.

Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action which has been helping with some of the legal challenges, described the situation as "complete chaos" and claimed one of those the organisation was trying to assist had "clear potential" Windrush links.

In a post on Twitter she said: "The Home Office hasn't got a clue what it's doing," adding: "Charter flights are an abomination."

Jacqueline McKenzie, a lawyer who campaigns for justice for the Windrush generation, said: "Deportation is ghastly and inhumane. We need urgent dialogue at an international and community level."

Last year, government adviser and lawyer Martin Forde QC said deportation flights were "seriously undermining" the Home Office's work on the Windrush compensation scheme because victims of the scandal "don't trust" the department.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the offenders were responsible for "some of the most appalling crimes" and had "left their victims living with the scars of the crimes that took place against them", adding: "The Government uses every means to continue to remove foreign nationals who have committed crimes against our citizens.

"We remove foreign criminals from the UK to different countries every week and this flight is no different."