Ministers lose fight to deport Lawrence killer

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The Independent Online

The Government has lost its legal battle to deport the killer of London headteacher, Philip Lawrence, after a court ruled that to force him to live in Italy after his release from prison would be a "disproportionate" measure.

Ever since Learco Chindamo, 27, fatally stabbed Mr Lawrence outside the gates of his school, the case has attracted wide publicity and raised important questions about what rehabilitation means in this country.

Yesterday, the judge hearing the appeal dismissed the Home Secretary's argument that it would be difficult to safely monitor Chindamo because he still presented a serious risk to the public.

After considering a number of reports, including one which said Chindamo had shown genuine remorse and made a real effort to put his past behaviour behind him, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT) refused to overturn a previous ruling in favour of his right to live in Britain.

Mr Justice Collins, in his judgment, said the Home Secretary's reasons in October last year for the decision to deport included a suggestion that the lack of close monitoring and control following release from prison would mean that Chindamo's notoriety might make him feel "excluded from society as before". Chindamo was told by the Home Office that there was "sufficient risk that your previous disregard for authority and the law may resurface and result in you coming to adverse attention".

Yesterday the judge described it as "a very flimsy basis for the existence of a present risk to the public".

Although born in Italy, Chindamo has lived in the UK since the age of six. He was 15 when, in 1995, he murdered Mr Lawrence, who was trying to protect another pupil at the gates of a west London school. He was jailed the following year.

The judge said of the killing: "There can be no doubt that the offence was viewed with repugnance at the time and the media has maintained its interest in and displeasure with the appellant ever since. This will not help when he is eventually released because it will put an obvious pressure on him. But it would be wrong to hold this against him in deciding whether there is, when the time to consider removal arises, a present threat."

It was reported that ministers told Frances Lawrence, the teacher's widow, they intended to seek Chindamo's deportation to Italy when he becomes eligible for parole in 2008.

Yesterday the judge said: "If assurances were given to the victim's widow or to the public that the appellant would be removed, they should not have been and cannot now justify removal."

He added: "Dreadful though the offence was, the circumstances do not show it was a murder that shows the individual to be a person whose presence here must, whatever the circumstances, constitute a present threat affecting one of the most fundamental interests of society."

The judge also emphasised the result of the appeal did not depend on the Human Rights Act but the 2006 regulations applying a EU Directive.

He said the law he had to apply was contained in the 2006 Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations. Those state that a person who has acquired the right to reside in the UK could only be removed if their personal conduct represents "a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society". A person's previous criminal convictions "do not in themselves justify the decision".

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to private and family life, was also considered by the tribunal.

The judge said: "It is, in my view, impossible to show the tribunal erred in law in deciding that removal would be disproportionate."