Man's deportation halted over wheelchair blunder

Officers forgot to take weightlifter's aid to the airport for the flight to Nigeria
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The Independent Online

The deportation of a disabled asylum-seeker has been abandoned after farcical scenes at Heathrow because immigration officers forgot his wheelchair and then had to decide whether or not to send him to Lagos without it.

Vincent Onwubiko, 43, a power-lifter from Lewisham, south-east London, who is confined to a wheelchair after contracting polio as a child, represented Britain at a paraplegic tournament in 1995.

But after losing his claim to stay in the UK, he was ordered to be deported to Nigeria on a flight last Monday night. Four security guards and an immigration officer carried Mr Onwubiko out of his wheelchair at the detention centre near Heathrow and placed him in a van which took him to the airport.

Speaking from Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre, Mr Onwubiko said: "When we got to the airport, they realised that they didn't have my wheelchair. Then they had this discussion about whether it was going to be safe for them to lift me on to the plane and escort me back to Lagos where I would have to fend for myself without a wheelchair.

"One of them was a medic and they said it wouldn't be right to send me back without a wheelchair – so they drove me all the way back to Colnbrook. I was very relieved because the idea of having to make my way out of Lagos without a wheelchair was very frightening," he said.

It has since emerged that Mr Onwubiko's case is still being considered by the High Court, after he lodged an appeal on his immigration status. A spokeswoman for the court said a full hearing of Mr Onwubiko's case was expected to be held in the summer.

Mr Onwubiko came to the UK in 1994 and has an 11-year-old daughter. He claims that if he is sent back to Nigeria he will be dead within weeks.

He represented Britain at the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1995 and 1997 and at the World Champion of Champions competition in Birmingham in 1996, winning a total of five gold medals. He was also selected for the Great Britain team at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta but was unable to attend.

But in 2007, Mr Onwubiko was sentenced to five months in prison for driving while disqualified after twice being convicted of careless driving in his specially adapted car, once after jumping a red light. Under UK law, an immigrant who commits a serious criminal offence is subject to automatic deportation. At the end of his sentence Mr Onwubiko was arrested and cleared for deportation.

This year his case was taken up by his MP, Bridget Prentice, who wrote to the UK Border Agency (UKBA). She was told there were "no grounds" to uphold his complaints about alleged mistreatment at Colnbrook and that the Home Office was committed to his deportation.

David Wood, the UKBA's head of criminality and detentions, 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. Full consideration was given to his case and the decision was reviewed and upheld by an Immigration Judge. His judicial review claim was found by the judge to be totally without merit."