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African leader's asylum plea fails

A FORMER vice-president of Sierra Leone who fled after an armed coup yesterday lost the last legal round in his attempt to stay in Britain.

But three judges in the Court of Appeal said it was only with regret that they accepted a ruling by Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, that Dr Abdulai Conteh must seek asylum in Belgium.

Dr Conteh, 46, was educated in London and Cambridge and has a house in Finchley, north London. He is a barrister, has a son, 20, resident in Britain and a daughter, 17, at Roedean school for girls.

The Home Secretary rejected Dr Conteh's application for asylum because Britain was not the first safe country he had reached. He had first flown to Belgium.

The Home Office also claimed Dr Conteh had been a member of a corrupt government, although there was no allegation that he was personally corrupt.

Dr Conteh applied for a judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision, but it was turned down. Yesterday, the Appeal Court upheld the refusal and said Mr Clarke had acted within the law. However, Lord Justice Bingham said it was 'with some regret' that he had to refuse the appeal. And Lord Justice Farquarson said: 'It is plain that the UK is the most appropriate country in which he could take up residence.'

Dr Conteh was a member of the Sierra Leone government in various posts for 15 years. He fled in a dugout canoe to neighbouring Guinea after the coup in April, and hid for 10 days. He had lost his passport, but was given a Guinean diplomatic passport before flying to Belgium where he applied for a visa to visit Britain.

When he reached London he telephoned the office of Baroness Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Development. The following day immigration officers arrested him for travelling on false documents. He was taken to a detention centre but later allowed bail.

Alper Riza QC, for Dr Conteh, claimed the Home Secretary had failed to act in accordance with government policy by refusing to take account of Dr Conteh's family and close links with Britain. The question of his participation in the Sierra Leone government record was irrelevant.

However, the Appeal Court ruled that Mr Clarke's decision was not legally flawed or susceptible to judicial review.

After the hearing Dr Conteh said he hoped the Home Secretary would still change his mind: 'The only place I could reasonably be considered for asylum on humanitarian grounds is Britain.'