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

Home Office: Out of control on immigration?
Home Office: Out of control on immigration?
Ian Dunt By

Radha Patel arrived at Heathrow on the 23rd of May 2011. It was her first trip out of India. The 32-year old mother of two had left her kids with her husband's parents to visit her family in Harrow.

She would not make it to Harrow for some time. Instead, she was interrogated, detained, shouted at, bullied, harassed, imprisoned and conspired against by British immigration officers. Her passport was confiscated and she was not able to return home to her children for months.

"This case is a precautionary tale," judge Anthony Thornton said at the high court last Wednesday.

"It has arisen because an immigration officer and a chief immigration officer considered that it was appropriate to manufacture evidence to secure what they considered to be the rightful outcome of an unlawful entry even though there was no basis for that belief.

"It is to be deeply regretted that this behaviour was meted out to a wholly blameless family visitor who was an adult, female, vulnerable lone traveller whose sole purpose in entering the UK was to pay an extended family visit to her parents."

What happened to Radha Patel is a case study in the moral and operational failings of the British immigration system. It is a story about men with too much power and too little accountability, and how innocent people can get lost in the system if one of these men takes a dislike to them. It is a story about officials fabricating evidence to win legal cases. It is a story about a government department which is out of control.

By the time Patel got to Heathrow, she'd already been travelling 24 hours, first from her town of Godpar to Mumbai, and then on the Kingfisher flight to the UK.

"On my arrival in the UK I was detained by the immigration officer for questioning," she says. "As my English is poor I was asked questions in Hindi by another immigration officer who was present at another desk. However my Hindi is also poor as my mother tongue is Gujarati."

Who was this immigration officer she spoke to? According to the two witnesses who gave evidence at the judicial review which would follow, his name was immigration officer Reeves. The strong suspicion is that this is false: a fiction cooked up by immigration officers as they tried to conceal the reality of what followed.

In all probability, the man conducting the initial interview was immigration officer Newton. Three official documents suggest this. Notes made on a landing card during the interview would have explained who was conducting it, but they have been redacted. Efforts by immigration staff to explain this redaction were described by the judge as "an attempt to gloss over a deliberate failure to disclose highly relevant evidence that supported Radha's case". It was the first in an avalanche of lies from the Home Office.

The department later insisted the interview with Patel was conducted in Gujarati. It also insisted it was conducted with a Home Office interpreter. Both statements are false. It was conducted in Hindi, a language Patel barely understood, by another immigration officer.

The judge found:

"There was no other evidence of the language of the interview other than that given by Radha, whose evidence throughout appeared to be both consistent and reliable.

"Given all the uncertainties of the provenance, accuracy, reliability and self-serving nature of the explanatory statement [from the Home Office], I place little weight on its contents concerning the preliminary interview.

"It is likely that Radha neither properly understood the questions she was being asked nor answered them in a way that was both accurate and accurately recorded."

Whoever it was who did the interview checked the passport, which contained a judge's authorisation for a six-month general visitor's visa and entry clearance for the UK. They ignored this, impounded the passport and detained her for further questioning.

What appears to have happened is that at some point Patel said she might help her sister sew some curtains. In the horrific days and weeks which followed, this uninteresting comment would take on the role of Biblical scripture, repeated throughout the legal process as proof that she was coming to the UK to work. In fact, she had mentioned that she might help out her sister with work in the house, helping out with domestic tasks if her sister was sewing curtains. But without translators or any real idea of the trouble she had found herself in, it was interpreted as an admission by the officers around her.

Patel was detained - a decision judges later found to have little merit, given she was not a flight risk. The decision was not explained to her and she was not given a copy of the forms she was legally entitled to. Her signature is not on documents required for the detention.

This was at around 6pm. In the arrivals hall outside, her brother was waiting for her. He would wait until a quarter to 11 before being informed of what was happening. They knew he was there. They just didn't bother telling him.

To justify the temporary detention, the Home Office later stated that Patel had said she would "help sister sew curtains at home". The judge concluded that that sentence "was never stated by Radha but was instead invented by Newton and made to look like an admission that she had made when he subsequently wrote up the notes".

After being kept waiting for hours, Patel was subject to a series of "informal" interviews which were not recorded by the authorities. Newton's log states that he took over her case at 10:30 that night, but the judge questioned that. "It would appear that he was already on duty but he gave no evidence of when he came on duty or what he had been doing between coming on duty and 22.30," he found.

Patel maintained that she was interviewed on several occasions in an increasingly aggressive style. The Home Office account is a blank: no evidence, no comment. As elsewhere in the case, the judge found the Home Office account to be patchy, internally inconsistent and filled with evidence of a later cover-up.

This is what Newton said about the interview:

"Before the interview commenced, I offered Ms Patel refreshments which would consist of drinks and food and asked if she was fit and well to answer questions. She declined any refreshments but stated she was fit and well and able to continue. Unfortunately, this interview was fifteen months ago so I am unable to recollect every detail of the interview. However, Ms Patel was very clear that she was visiting her sister with the expectation of sewing curtains for payment."

Patel's account is more detailed. She said:

"I was very worried and anxious and the attitude of the officers did not help.

"After asking me few questions for around 15 to 20 minutes the officer would go away and I would be left in the room alone for few hours before being interviewed again. This happened many times. I was always asked more or less the same ten to 15 questions.

"The officer questioning me was not happy with my denials and kept on stating that my only intention was to come and work in the UK. I was asked about my family and how they acquired their status in the UK.

"I told them I was happily married with two children back in India and had no intention of breaking any condition of my stay in the UK.

"When I kept on denying the intention to work, I was repeatedly asked the same questions again and again and the officer kept on stating that my intention was only to work and earn money in the UK."

In each of these interviews, the judge found she had been shouted at and insulted. He said:

"My summary of the available evidence shows that the Home Office's case has no foundation.

"When this evidence is considered as a whole, only one conclusion is possible: Radha's evidence in relation to this interview is to be accepted in its entirety and the Home Office's case about it is to be rejected. Radha was bullied, she never made the admissions attributed to her, she continuously denied she had any intention to work or to help or assist Hansha in sewing curtains and the notes were deliberately written up to record her so-called admissions when it was known that she had not provided answers in that form and was vehemently denying any intention to take employment.

"The evidence suggests that Newton was determined to cause her removal forthwith and that this could only be achieved if she was temporarily detained in order to give him an opportunity to cajole or bully her into admitting a change of purpose so that she could then be instantly removed without further difficulty or trouble."

Patel was denied entry to the UK and was wrongly informed by Newton she had no right to appeal. In fact, she could appeal under articles five, eight and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. When a copy of the legal decision was sent to Patel's legal representatives the notification of her appeal rights were removed.

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