Dozens of Jamaicans in the UK are mounting last-minute legal challenges to try to halt their deportation on a Home Office charter flight scheduled for Tuesday.
Up to 50 people are due to be put on the flight, which is only the second the Home Office has chartered to Jamaica since the Windrush scandal broke. A group legal action and a flurry of individual legal actions are under way.
Thirteen of those due to be on the flight who have been interviewed by the Guardian say that between them they will leave behind dozens of young children, along with their immediate and extended families, if the deportations go ahead, and they will be putting their lives at risk because of gang violence on the island. Many have lived in the UK since childhood.
Last week more than 100 cross-party MPs and peers signed a Labour-led letter to Boris Johnson calling for the flight to be postponed pending recommendations from a review into Windrush.
The letter, put together by the new Labour MP Nadia Whittome and Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said: “Not only is there an unacceptable risk of removing anyone with a potential Windrush claim, but there has been a failure by the government to remedy the causes of the Windrush scandal.”
The letter asked a series of questions about those due to be deported, including regarding their access to legal advice and to mobile phones, and how many had been in the UK since they were children.
The Home Office has not responded to recommendations from the former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw or to a leak from the Windrush Lessons Learned review which suggested that foreign national offenders who have lived in the UK for most of their lives should not face automatic deportation.
Last year the Guardian revealed that at least five men had been murdered following their deportation to Jamaica. One of the five was Dewayne Robinson, 37.
It has emerged that Robinson was the cousin of Akeem Finlay, 30, one of those who is facing enforced return to Jamaica on Tuesday following a GBH conviction. Finlay came to the UK at the age of 10 and now lives with his partner who is pregnant with his fourth child.
Months before Robinson’s murder on 4 March 2018 following his deportation from the UK, another of Finlay’s cousins was murdered. “The men involved in the murders of my cousins have warned our family not to return to Jamaica or we will be murdered too,” said Finlay.
Home Office officials have emphasised the dangerous and violent nature of the crimes committed by those due to fly on Tuesday. While all have criminal convictions, their situations are not clear-cut. Many have committed just one offence, in many cases drug supply, GBH or joint-enterprise crimes.
One 24-year-old due to be deported moved to the UK when he was four years old. He says he was groomed into a county lines gang and forced to sell drugs when he was placed in the scandal-hit Medway secure training centre . He served three months there for a burglary he was convicted of committing during the 2011 riots, of which he protested he was innocent.
“I didn’t steal anything in the riots but I was convicted anyway and sent to Medway,” he said. “I was groomed there and forced to sell crack in a county lines network.”
His solicitor, Maria Thomas of Duncan Lewis, expressed concern that neither the police nor the Home Office had investigated him as a possible victim of modern slavery. “The fact that the home secretary considers a potential victim of trafficking as a ‘serious foreign criminal’ deserving of deportation by charter flight is deeply alarming,” she said.
Tajay Thomson arrived in the UK in 2001 when he was five years old. Now 23, he has a conviction for a drugs offence for which he served a seven-month sentence in 2015. “I feel like my life has been taken away by the Home Office,” he said.
His mother, Carline Angus, an NHS worker, said: “My son has been here since he was five. He got himself into trouble three years ago but he is not a bad boy. He’s not a rapist, he’s not a murderer, he doesn’t walk with knives. I’m fighting tooth and nail for my boy.”
Otis Lewis, 36, arrived in the UK in 2002. In 2012 he was convicted of possession of a firearm under joint enterprise rules. There was no physical evidence linking him to the gun found at his friend’s home, which was raided by police when Lewis was visiting. Lewis said he had no knowledge that the gun was there, but he was convicted nonetheless. He tried to get his conviction overturned but did not succeed.
“I said to myself: these things happen for a reason. Now I work with young people and try to encourage them that violence is not the way,” said Lewis. He is a reggae musician using the stage name Ricardo Rawal, and says he tries to send positive messages to young people through his lyrics.
Lewis was informed that he was being deported to Jamaica, and was perplexed when he received a removal notice from the Home Office erroneously saying he was being removed to Albania.
Karen Doyle, of the Movement for Justice campaign group, condemned the charter flight. “The human cost of this charter flight will be immense,” she said. “The detainees have families and children and want to get on with their lives. These charter flights must stop.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The planned charter flight to Jamaica is specifically for removing foreign criminals. Those detained for removal include people convicted of manslaughter, rape, violent crime and dealing class-A drugs.”