Top law men's bid to deport broker

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THE HOME Secretary Jack Straw has appointed the Government's leading barrister to fight a last-ditch legal challenge by a London commodities broker who faces deportation to Africa after living all his adult life in Britain.

Nigerian-born Ben James, abandoned by his parents 16 years ago while a pupil at a private school in London, makes his final plea to be allowed to remain before a High Court judge on Wednesday.

Mr James, who has no close friends or relatives in Africa, has won extraordinary backing for his anti-deportation campaign, supporters including the Minister for Public Health, Tessa Jowell, who is his MP, and the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Sir Herman Ouseley. But Mr Straw rejected all representations and appointed Philip Sales, a close friend of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and the government's chief advocate in the courts, to argue the Home Office case. He will be supported by a second barrister, Mark Bishop.

Earlier this year, the appointment of Mr Sales, 35, as Treasury Devil led to a discrimination case brought by a female barrister against the Attorney General John Morris.

There were claims that the post, officially titled First Counsel to the Treasury, was linked to the fact that Mr Sales - who is one of Britain's most able young lawyers - had worked at Lord Irvine's former chambers at 11, King's Bench Walk.

The Home Secretary is involved in a bitter war of words with his opposite number Ann Widdecombe and the Conservative leader William Hague, who have accused the government of making Britain a "soft" touch for illegal immigrants.

The Conservatives have seized on an outbreak of violence between asylum seekers and residents in Dover to force the immigration issue to the top of the political agenda and Mr Straw wanted to be seen to take a tough stance.

He recently wrote to members of the Home Office's staff union to say he had "personally reviewed" the case of Mr James and wanted to continue with the deportation. Mr Straw had been petitioned by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union who took a close interest in the case and invited Mr James to the Home Office to meet them.

But the Home Secretary wrote: "I have personally reviewed all the circumstances of Mr James' case in the context of the judicial review and in the light of both your own representations and those from others. Having done so, I am afraid I am not persuaded it would be right to revoke the deportation order made against Mr James."

Mr James, 30, who is represented by barrister Stephanie Harrison, said previous adjudications made against him were based on the false assumption that he had made up a story of being abandoned, a fact no longer in dispute.

He has been told to report to the official in charge of the court cells before the hearing. "I am trying my hardest not to even contemplate the possibility that I could be made to leave the only place I know as home," he said.