Deportation looms for athlete who won gold for UK

Wheelchair-bound power-lifter to be sent back to Nigeria

A disabled athlete who has won five gold medals for Britain was set to be deported to Nigeria last night after losing his legal battle to live in the UK.

Vincent Onwubiko, 42, a power-lifter from Lewisham, in south-east London, represented Britain at the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1995 and 1997 and at the World Champion of Champions competition in Birmingham in 1996.

He came to the UK in 1994 and is married to a British citizen with whom he has an 11-year-old daughter.

But in 2007 Mr Onwubiko was sentenced to five months in prison for driving while disqualified after twice being convicted of careless driving, once after jumping a red light.

At the end of his sentence Mr Onwubiko, who is wheelchair-bound as a result of polio, was arrested and taken to Dover Immigration Removal Centre, which he claims would not admit him because he does not have the use of his legs.

Instead he was taken to Brixton prison in south London. In January 2008, he was granted bail, but re-arrested last August after being called in for an interview, and has been in detention ever since.

His removal on a Virgin Atlantic flight was set for 10.30pm last night from Heathrow's Terminal 3.

But yesterday his supporters claimed lawyers had successfully won an injunction against his removal and that his case was still before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Ellie Schling, who has been campaigning for Mr Onwubiko to be allowed to stay in the UK, said: "His physical condition is deteriorating while he is being held in Brixton Prison and he has not got access to the hospital or medical care he needs."

She added: "Vincent is seeking release to an address in Lewisham pending the resolution of outstanding legal cases. He says that no criminal prosecution is being pursued against him and that the Home Office is simply seeking to have him removed from the UK."

Glyn Hibbert, director of the British Wheelchair Sports Foundation, has described Mr Onwubiko as an "excellent weightlifter and a decent young man". He said that, if the Home Office had granted him papers to obtain a visa, Mr Onwubiko would have been part of the GB team at the Paralympic Games in Atlanta in 1996.

Last night the Home Office said it was unaware of any outstanding legal action that prevented his removal from Britain.

David Wood, head of criminality and detentions at the UK Border Agency, said: "In light of a number of criminal convictions, Vincent Onwubiko was notified on 13 November 2007 of a decision to make a deportation order against him. We have fully considered his case and made sure that his human rights are not breached. This decision has been reviewed and upheld by an immigration judge. The UK Border Agency has not been presented with a European Court of Human Rights injunction preventing his removal and we have not received any new representations from either Mr Onwubiko or his representatives."

It is not the first time a disabled person has been deported. In the summer, the disability network Radar wrote to Home Secretary Alan Johnson to try to stop the deportation of a disabled failed asylum seeker, Abbas Sharifi, arguing that he would not get support for his mental health problems in his home country, Afghanistan.

Chief executive, Liz Sayce, said that there was a "very strong and compelling case" for Mr Sharifi, 49, to remain in the UK, but he was deported in August.

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