Part two: The Home Office's campaign of lies and intimidation against a mother

The Home Office: A department out of control?
The Home Office: A department out of control?
Ian Dunt By

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Patel arrived in a detention centre, where her ordeal continued. Behind the scenes her family and lawyers had figured out that the process had not been conducted appropriately. But the guards in the centre gave a very different picture. Their behaviour has an unmistakeable hint of sadism to it.

She said:

"During my stay in Colnbrook detention centre I was once again repeatedly told that I will be removed any time and I should not rely on my legal representation and that my lawyer will not be able to get me out. I felt that they were making sure that I stayed stressed and back out and decide to go back to India.

"Every half an hour two officers would come and tell me that I will be removed in next 15 minutes so I must get ready. I was getting more and more distressed. I did not have any mobile phone with me by which I could stay in touch with my family."

Her brother, who was trying to get in contact with her, was forced to wait on the phone for 30 minutes before being put on the line with her. She added:

"On 25 May 2011 in the evening suddenly officers came and without telling me anything took me in a van and transferred me to another place. I asked them if my family is being told about this transfer. No-one was ready to tell me anything. At that moment I was very scared and had very negative thoughts in my mind, like maybe they will put me in prison without informing my whereabouts to my family.

"I was transferred to a different detention centre at Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre. In the meanwhile I was informed by the officers once more that my application for temporary admission was refused and that, as I did not have any in country appeal rights, my flight tickets were booked once again and that I will be leaving for India in next 30 minutes.

"I once again panicked and when my brother called me, I was crying uncontrollably."

A few days later, chief immigration officer Khan at Heathrow Central Control Unit reviewed at the case.

He noted that she denied making any of the admissions ascribed to her in the interview at Heathrow, but by this point they had taken on the status of scripture by virtue of having been recorded by an immigration officer.

"This contention is not so much my concern as in my mind the interview transcript clearly documents her responses attesting to these admissions," Khan found. "The question is over the employment itself." Those two sentences are a case study in how Home Office misbehaviour reinforces itself.

But Khan could see that something was wrong. Due process had not been followed. So he withdrew the decision to cancel her leave to remain. His intentions were not that of a savour. Instead, he planned to reissue the decision, except this time making it clear she had a right of appeal.

At this point Patel should have been released, given her passport with a reissued visa stamped in it and given six months leave to remain. Instead, she was given temporary admission subject to weekly reporting and the Home Office kept her passport.

By this point Patel had challenged her detention in a judicial review. Khan, seemingly nervous about what had happened, evidently hoped his action would be the end of the matter. He failed to properly inform Patel of the decision or serve her copy of it and then proceeded as if it had never happened. But it was too late. They had upset Patel. In Heathrow, she may have seemed an exhausted and frightened Indian mother, unable to understand what was being done to her. But she emerged from Yarl's Wood detention centre intent on getting justice. Instead of placating her, the Khan decision ended up intensifying her legal attack.

A month later Khan and Newton met up to prepare an explanatory statement for a hearing into the Patel case. At some point they decided that they would not give evidence or offer a statement. Instead, the partial account of what had happened was prepared anonymously so they could not be identified as the authors.

The statement erroneously suggested Khan had offered to remove the original decision in a letter to Patel's lawyers, which they had never responded to. It then alleged that Khan had undertaken a further detailed review of Patel's case and - strangely enough – reached the same decision as the immigration officers before him.

"This reasoning is no more than an unjustified re-writing of history," the judge found. "It showed that Khan was attempting to gloss over and hide the consequences of the original decisions and his own withdrawal decision.

"In particular, he spelt out the details of a further review which never took place, at least there is no other evidence of it taking place."

This was typical of the way the Home Office behaved over the long and torturous legal process which followed.

A tribunal reached a decision in Patel's favour. The Home Office appealed but Khan and Newton refused to participate in it, left the explanatory statement with all its misleading claims intact, and instructed that no presenting officer should attend the hearing. The judge adjourned and demanded an up-to-date explanatory statement with the names of the officers who prepared it. Khan and Newton re-issued the original statement with a further misleading passage. They stayed anonymous. Unsurprisingly, the judge found in Patel's favour. Remarkably, the Home Office appealed once again.

The legal battle lasted for two years until judge Anthony Thornton found in her favour last week. He was the third judge to do so. As judge after judge found in her favour, the Home Office continued to appeal.

"The immigration officers concerned appeared and still appear to be indifferent to the suffering they had caused over a ten-month period, oblivious to the enormity of the abuse of their powers that Patel and her family had experienced and blind to the miscarriage of justice that they were perpetrating," Thornton found.

"The misinformation that they put into circulation, the misleading nature of their participation in the various proceedings concerned and the clear and continuing intention of avoiding the consequences of their unlawful and dishonest conduct appeared to be both criminal, culpable and a serious abuse of power."

The irony is that Patel was unable to leave Britain through most of this period. With her passport still held by the Home Office, she was kept in the UK for far longer than the short family visit she had intended. She said:

"During this time, my family - especially my two young children - have suffered a lot without their mother. I feel as if I am in a prison and not allowed to go back home. I had come to spend time with my parents, brother and sister, however this visit has ended in a nightmare.

"Not only have I suffered mental agony, stress and anxiety but my family here in the UK and in India suffer mental agony, stress and anxiety due to my ordeal. My brothers and sister have also incurred huge expenses in the form of appeal fees paid to the lawyer."

The Home Office even continued to impound Patel's passport after the third appeal decision ran against it. When it was finally returned to her, she immediately booked a flight back to India.

That is the story of Radha Patel: bullied by Britain, lied about, imprisoned, kept apart from her children and tormented by numerous baseless appeals, conducted without even the flicker of regard for her feelings. But perhaps the most terrifying aspect is how unapologetic the Home Office remained. Even when it knew what it had done to her, it continued to make her life a misery. 

Update - The Home Office have released the following statement:

"We do not agree with this ruling and plan to appeal immediately.

"To ensure we maintain an effective immigration system Border Force officers must be able to use their lawful powers to refuse someone entry and detain and remove those with no right to be in the country.

"Nevertheless, we take these matters seriously and the officers involved have been removed from front line duties while an investigation is conducted.”

Update (24/06/15)

The court of appeal has overturned the high court's findings. The full ruling can be found here.


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