UK deportation flight to Jamaica leaves with just seven people on board

Home Office-chartered flight costs an estimated £43,000 a person after Covid fears and high court challenges

Only seven people were deported to Jamaica on a Home Office charter plane early on Wednesday morning, at an estimated cost of £43,000 a person, despite 90 being earmarked originally for the flight.

Concerns were raised about the UK’s decision to go ahead with the flight due to opposition from the Jamaican government because of Covid-19 worries. Fears were also expressed about the vulnerability of some of those due to fly because of trafficking indicators and mental health problems.

A series of urgent high-court injunction applications seeking to block some of the deportations continued almost until the flight took off at 1am on Wednesday.

The estimated cost of a long-haul Home Office charter operation is thought to be about £300,000. With seven people on board that figure equates to about £43,000 for each deportee.

While the majority of those due to fly were taken off the flight, the seven people who flew are believed to include three who were taken from prison. Of the four taken from immigration detention, one was aged 64 and another 66. One is thought to be suffering from mental confusion and is physically frail and had to be carried on to the plane. He is believed to have a Windrush case.

Another recently lost a child in a case ruled by a coroner to be caused by medical negligence and he had to leave his partner, the mother of their child, to grieve alone.

At least five of those expected to fly had trafficking indicators due to county lines grooming.

The Home Office gave the Jamaican government assurances that nobody at risk of Covid would be on the flight, after at least two cases were confirmed in the detention centre days before the plane took off. It said everyone due to fly had had a negative PCR test.

One man asked to return to Jamaica but owing to administrative issues was not put on the flight and was taken back to prison.

Karen Doyle, of the campaign group Movement for Justice, who worked on the cases of 30 people expected to fly, only three of whom ultimately boarded the plane, said: “When you prioritise the politics and optics of deportation over human life you are going to get gross injustice.”

Bella Sankey, the director of the charity Detention Action, said the flight was a “watershed moment”.

“This chaotic flight is the beginning of the end for mass Home Office charter flights. Horrifying suicide attempts and an unwell Windrush man being carried on to the plane, the disasters are endless. This is not how a civilised country conducts itself and public disquiet is rightly growing.”

The lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie, who campaigns for justice for the Windrush generation, said: “The government tried to deport 90 people and destroy 90 families. Something is very wrong with a system which exists to show strength, falsely posited within a paradigm of public safety, which gets so much wrong. Deportation is ghastly and inhumane. We need urgent dialogue at an international and community level.”

Maria Thomas, of Duncan Lewis solicitors, said the majority of the firm’s clients who were due to fly had had their removal directions deferred. “We know the detention centre was not Covid secure as there were confirmed cases including one of my clients. It took us three stern letters to even get paracetamol for him. The home secretary’s removal practice by way of charter flights in this manner is brutal and inhumane, and a massive burden on the taxpayer. This is particularly so during a pandemic.”

The home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “These individuals are responsible for some of the most appalling crimes – rape, assault, grievous bodily harm, drug offences, and sexual assault of children. They have violated our laws and values and have left their victims living with the scars of the crimes that took place against them. The British people should be in no doubt of my determination to remove these criminals to protect both the victims of their crimes and the public.

“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.”

She added that more people would have been deported had it not been for the actions of the lawyers representing some of those due to fly, who prevented the removal of 43 people who had a combined sentence of 245 years for a range of very serious offences.

A Home Office spokesperson added that everyone due to board the flight had been offered a PCR test, individual risk assessments had been carried out before deportation and people had had an opportunity to raise trafficking claims.

The spokesperson said nobody had to be carried to the flight, nobody on board was a British citizen or member of the Windrush generation and that there were 24/7 medical facilities in detention where health professionals could administer medication.


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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