Chefs at boiling point after Martha Stewart is barred from UK

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The Independent Online

The decision to refuse the American domestic guru Martha Stewart entry to the UK has been branded "an enormous joke" and "a blow to British business" by one of Britain's leading chefs.

Antony Worrall Thompson said the ruling last week by the UK Borders Agency, made because of her previous convictions in the US, was a "pathetic example of muddled thinking – or no thinking at all". The decision forced Stewart, who served five months in a US jail in 2004 for lying to investigators about a share sale, to cancel a series of business meetings and promotional events in the UK.

Worrall Thompson said the refusal to allow Stewart, 66, into the UK smacked of hypocrisy and could not be justified. "When I heard the news I instantly just thought it was some enormous joke," he said. "It's pathetic – we let in thousands of people each year who we know are serious threats to our country but refuse entry to someone that could positively benefit British business. This woman is an American icon, who has sold millions of books around the world and made a brilliant career for herself. If anything, she came out of prison stronger than when she went in.

"The idea that this woman is a threat to national security is risible. She is America's foremost female chef – their answer to Delia Smith – and our decision to turn one of the most powerful women in America away on grounds of national security is simply absurd."

Clarissa Dickson Wright, the celebrity chef and one half of The Two Fat Ladies, joined the condemnation, saying that the decision was "absolutely ludicrous". "She's not an al-Qa'ida terrorist – she's a cook for goodness' sake," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office had previously refused to comment about Stewart's entry to Britain, but said: "We continue to oppose entry to the UK of individuals where we believe their presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good or where they have been found guilty of serious criminal offences abroad."

American citizens are generally able to enter the UK without a visa, but people with serious convictions must apply for one. In 2004, Stewart was convicted in a federal court of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements related to a personal sale of ImClone Systems Inc stock. Lying to government agencies is a federal crime in America. She was given a five-month prison sentence, and also served an additional five months and three weeks of home confinement.

Stewart joins the Islamic preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the American rapper Snoop Dogg, and the leader of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan on the list of high-profile figures to have been denied entry to the UK by the Home Office.

She had planned to promote a Wedgwood china collection that bears her name. She was also intending to speak at the Royal Academy of Arts before filming episodes of her television programme, The Martha Stewart Show. The interior designer and home-making expert has amassed a vast fortune from books, magazines and television programmes on topics such as cooking, gardening, and weddings.

She is preparing to mount an appeal. If that fails, she could take the case to the asylum and immigration tribunal.

Charles Koppelman, chairman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, said: "Martha ... has engagements with English companies and business leaders and hopes this can be resolved so that she will be able to visit."