Deporting gay asylum-seeker 'was unlawful'

High Court orders Home Secretary to find and return 38-year-old man to Britain

A gay asylum-seeker who was unlawfully deported last year and now lives in fear of persecution must be found and returned to Britain, a High Court judge has ruled.

Sir George Newman said the failed asylum-seeker's removal was "manifestly unlawful" and ordered the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to "use her best endeavours" to bring him back.

The judge said it appeared to him that officers of the UK Border Agency, which is responsible for controlling immigration, had "deliberately misled" Mr X and deprived him of his right to seek legal advice before his removal. Neither the asylum-seeker nor the country to which he was sent can be named.

The agency's actions were calculated "to avoid any complication that could arise from his removal becoming publicly known," said the judge.

In a written statement, Mr X said that, last September, he was deceived into thinking he was being taken from Tinsley House immigration removal centre, on the perimeter of Gatwick airport, for an interview with an immigration officer. Instead, without warning, he was taken in a van by four security men to a plane.

He said that, when he resisted leaving the van, he was handcuffed, and punched in his private parts to make him straighten his legs so they could be belted together. Crying, he was lifted on to the aeroplane and flown out of the country.

Caroline Slocock, chief executive of the Refugee Legal Centre, described the ruling as "a damning indictment" of Home Office practice. "The High Court ruling shows our client was quite wrongly removed, deliberately misleading him and preventing him from contacting his solicitors to launch a defence," she said. "His life was put at risk and remains so until he is brought back."

She said this was not an isolated case, adding: "Even more worryingly, Phil Woolas [minister for borders and immigration] recently signalled he wants to curtail the judicial review process which has led to this decision."

Mr X's mobile phone had been taken from him and he was given no chance to contact friends or lawyers, even though Home Office rules required that he should have 72 hours' notice of removal to give him a chance to make calls.

Lawyers for the Home Secretary conceded in court that his removal was carried out illegally, but they argued that flying him back to the UK was pointless as the 38-year-old was bound to lose the new claim he wanted to make.

Rejecting the submission, Sir George, a High Court deputy judge, ruled that the illegal actions of the agency in removing him were "grave and serious", and justice required his return. The judge said: "Justice requires he should, if possible, be brought back so he can make his claim as effectively as he can. Without hesitation, I exercise my discretion to grant the claimant a mandatory order that the Secretary of State should use her best endeavours to secure his return to the UK."

If returned, Mr X is expected to claim damages from the Government.

Mr X arrived in the UK in September 2001 and worked in the country for seven years before being earmarked for removal after his asylum claim failed. He argued that he feared persecution because his native country discriminated against homosexuals and he could be subjected to violence.

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "We are disappointed by the High Court's decision. When somebody has continually been found, by the independent courts, to have no right to stay in the UK, we expect them to leave voluntarily and, if necessary, will enforce their removal. It is important that individuals who have no right to be here are removed as part of a robust immigration system. We are fully investigating what happened in this case."