Several “dangerous” foreign criminals have been deported from the UK, but a “significant” number of other offenders were granted a last-minute reprieve after legal challenges, according to a Government minister.
Campaigners have been trying to halt the scheduled deportation flight to Jamaica amid ongoing concerns over the Windrush scandal.
But the Government insisted the flight was to remove “dangerous foreign criminals” from the country, including those convicted of rape and murder.
The Home Office insisted none of the offenders were eligible for the Windrush compensation scheme. But it would not say whether any had immediate relatives who were from the Windrush generation.
The department said all 36 originally due to be on board the flight were Jamaican citizens and none had been born in the UK. It would not say whether any had lived in the country since they were children.
Chris Philp, the department’s minister for immigration compliance, said the flight left the UK in the early hours of Wednesday morning, removing 13 “serious foreign criminals”.
Some of the other Jamaicans due to be on board were granted a last-minute reprieve after fresh asylum and modern slavery claims were made.
Charities told how lawyers had also gone to court to prevent parents set to be on the flight being separated from their children, who would be left behind in the UK.
This application was later refused after being considered, according to a Court of Appeal ruling.
Mr Philp said: “In the early hours of this morning, 13 serious foreign criminals were deported from the UK.
“It is disappointing that specialist immigration law firms continued to use last-minute tactics to remove a significant number of offenders from this flight.”
— Chris Philp (@CPhilpOfficial) December 1, 2020
He added: “These individuals had every opportunity to raise the claims in the days and weeks leading up to the flight; however, a significant number of claims were not submitted until hours before the flight was due to leave – meaning murderers and rapists have been able to stay in the UK.
“Those we are attempting to remove have committed crimes which have a devastating impact on victims and their families.
“We will be working through these cases as quickly as possible. I remain committed to removing foreign criminals and anyone without a legal basis to be here to keep the British public safe – which will always be my number one priority.”
According to the Home Office, the 13 on the flight had combined sentences of more than 100 years, including three who were convicted of murder, another of manslaughter, while others had been sentenced for crimes like grooming, drug dealing, burglary and robbery.
The department also branded the 23 who were taken off the flight as “serious foreign criminals”, saying they had combined total sentences of 156 years, including a life term for murder, rapists and drug dealers.
The cases are being urgently reviewed with a view to deporting the people at the next available opportunity.
Earlier this week, Mr Philp denied that deporting foreign national offenders is discriminatory after Conservative MPs called for “activist lawyers” to be prevented from stopping flights at the last minute.
He told the Commons there is “no element of discrimination in this policy whatsoever” and that it applies to French and Spanish nationals just as much as individuals from Jamaica.
It came after the Home Office came to an informal arrangement with Jamaica not to deport those who arrived in the UK as children.
Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said: “As minister Philp well knows, last minute claims are filed because his Government fails to provide effective access to justice before mass expulsions.
“But the tragedy of this tale is the many devastated children who have had a loving parent forcibly ripped from their lives without any consultation or being able to make their voice heard. This is child cruelty plain and simple and it will not stand.”