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Home Office admits unlawfully separating man from three-year-old daughter

SAM TOBIN reports from the High Court

THE Home Office was forced to apologise yesterday to a man it unlawfully detained 250 miles away from his daughter — who was nearly put up for adoption as a result.

The beleaguered department, still reeling from the Windrush scandal that brought down former home secretary Amber Rudd, agreed to pay £50,000 to the pair for breaching their human rights to family life.

Bail for Immigration Detainees director Celia Clarke said that their treatment was merely one example of the “systemic failure” of the Home Office to act lawfully when detaining parents of young children — which is “routine practice.”

She added that it was “utterly reprehensible” that the Home Office disregarded the family’s welfare while knowing “at every stage” that it was acting unlawfully.

AJS, an Indian national and family member of an EU citizen, was detained on June 21 last year after serving a 20-month prison sentence, during which time he had “regular contact” with his three-year-old daughter AJU.

His local authority had taken AJU into its care during his sentence and “recommended she be given an opportunity to be reunited with him” as the only viable alternative to adoptive care, the High Court heard.

AJS’s barrister Stephanie Harrison QC said the council had been “highly involved” in deciding the child’s future and concluded that it was best she was with her father, which was “endorsed” by the family courts.

The Home Office nonetheless detained AJS at HMP Wormwood Scrubs until July 31 2017, when he was transferred 250 miles away from his daughter to the Verne immigration removal centre.

No arrangements were made to enable him and his daughter to maintain contact since his detention in June, the court was told, and the Home Office repeatedly refused to relocate him nearer to her.

The Home Office twice opposed granting AJS bail and, when he was finally granted it on August 21 last year, it failed to provide a bail address, meaning that AJS was not released until a month later — just over a week before the council’s deadline for placing AJU for adoption.

On release, AJS was electronically tagged and subjected to a curfew, which “rendered the local authority’s care plan towards reunification [with his daughter] impracticable,” the court also heard.

Ms Harrison said the Home Office admitted her client was “falsely imprisoned” and said “substantial damages are agreed for both father and child.”

She added: “There is compelling evidence that the treatment of this particular parent and child is only an example of what appears to be systemic failure on the part of the Secretary of State to properly apply law and policy when detaining individuals and separating them from minor dependent children.”

Ms Harrison said AJS is to be fully reunited with his daughter “very shortly,” which Judge Peter Blair QC said was “reassuring and heartwarming.”

The Home Office admitted AJS was unlawfully detained for the “entirety of the detention” in breach of domestic and EU law and its own published policy on detention and family separation.

It also admitted that disrupting contact between AJS and his daughter, and imposing electronic monitoring and a curfew, was unlawful.

AJS’s solicitor, Janet Farrell of Bhatt Murphy, called for an urgent review of Home Office practice, saying: “The litany of unlawful conduct in this case and how close this child came to the catastrophic outcome of adoption is truly shocking.”

Labour shadow immigration minister Afzal Khan highlighted that Prime Minister Theresa May might have condemned US President Donald Trump’s family separation policy, “but her hostile environment separates parents from their children every day.”

“This case is an appalling injustice, caused by a litany of Home Office failures at every stage of the process, but it is not a one-off,” he said.

“After the Windrush crisis, the government has not learned any substantive lessons about their cruel and ineffective immigration system.”

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