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Ghana women barred from mother's funeral

Two grieving daughters cannot come to Britain from Ghana for their mother's funeral on Friday because their family were not close enough, a foreign office minister has ruled.

Labour's social services spokeswoman, Harriet Harman, who was Gladys Otutey's MP, made a last minute appeal last night for a change of heart. She said it was "totally unacceptable" for decisions to be made on the basis of how fond was the relationship between mother and daughters.

The Walworth Methodist Church, where she sang in the choir, has also urged the minister to change his mind.

"Any family's children should be able to attend a funeral, not just close families," Ms Harman said.

Ms Otutey's family says she telephoned her daughters and wrote to them regularly after she came here in 1990, but officials who interviewed them in Ghana concluded that their contact had been "limited".

In a letter to Ms Harman, Dr Liam Fox, under-secretary of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said that Doreen, 19, and Grace, 23, had failed to convince officials at the British High Commission in Accra that they wanted only to come to Britain for their mother's funeral.

"The young ladies' limited contact with, and knowledge of, their mother was striking and relevant," he said. "I am in no doubt whatsoever about the importance in a close family of children being able to attend a parent's funeral. However, I must balance this against my responsibility to ensure that the immigration rules are fully upheld."

Ms Otutey, who worked as a cleaner at Waterloo Station, had been refused leave to remain in Britain in July this year just before she became ill with a brain tumour.

Her boyfriend, Andrew Beasley, said he would personally ensure that Doreen and Grace went home.

"The girls should be here," he said. "It's wrong, and I am upset about it because I feel I have failed her. It isn't for them to decide how close they were."

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that there had been other reasons for the refusal. Ms Otutey had outstayed her visitor's visa, she said.

"It wasn't just because they hadn't had close contact since 1990 and it wasn't just because they were single. It wasn't just because they were unemployed, it wasn't just because three other members of the family applied. It was all the factors together," she said.