Straw's Christmas gift to Ben James: get ready to leave now

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The Independent Online
THERE ARE no "for sale" signs outside Ben James's London flat. Nor are there maps of Nigeria to be found in the tidy home from where he conducts a small commodities broking business.

Yet this could be Mr James's last weekend before he is forcibly removed from Britain and put on an aircraft to begin an uncertain new life in the West African state.

It is a fate which the businessman has refused to contemplate throughout an eight-year legal battle to remain in Britain, where he has lived since being abandoned by his family at 14. On Monday, he will appear before an adjudicator at the Immigration Appellate Authority in London to make his final plea to be allowed to stay in the only country he knows.

His case will be supported by a succession of character witnesses, led by Sir Herman Ouseley, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, and including his local vicar, his karate instructor and an old school friend. The verdict, expected after two days of evidence, will finally release him from what he describes as "a prison of the mind".

He said: "Yes, I have been able to walk down the street or go to the cinema, but I have not had my freedom. It's like going back to the days of slavery when people could get three meals a day but did not have the feeling that they were their own man."

Although he is "extremely determined" in fighting his case, he is aggrieved at the way the protracted battle has held his life in limbo. "I am not resentful towards anyone in particular but everything I plan is being jeopardised and I want my life, my freedom and the chance to realise my goals and ambitions. I think I have paid my dues both financially and emotionally, especially considering that I never chose to come to this country in the first place."

Mr James was placed by his father in an independent school in Tooting, south London, but was forced to fend for himself at the age of 16 when his family stopped paying his school fees and warned him not to return home. He did a succession of menial jobs before finding work in the financial services industry, later establishing himself as a commodities broker.

However, when he tried to regularise his immigration status in 1991 the Home Office determined to deport him as an illegal overstayer. His case received a further setback when an adjudicator took the view in 1993 that he was "a playboy son from a monied background".

The Home Office says it can see no reason why he should not be able to establish himself in Nigeria. But Mr James, who is thoroughly Anglicised and speaks none of Nigeria's native languages, has no friends or close relatives in West Africa.

In September, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, agreed to refer the case to independent adjudication after a senior judge urged him to think again. Sitting at a final appeal hearing in London, Mr Justice Scott Baker said: "There is clearly a substantial perception that the wrong decision has been made in some quarters."

Mr James is hoping still to be at home when he celebrates his 31st birthday later this month. "My freedom would be a nice birthday and Christmas present and a wonderful way to start the millennium," he said.

Refusing to consider the possibility that he might be flown back to Africa next week, he said he was hoping that any future aircraft journeys will be made as a British passport-holder. "I have been in this country for 17 years and I have never been on holiday," he said.

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