Is a refugee from Pinochet the victim of a witch-hunt?

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Indy Politics

Ernesto Leal was just 13 when he arrived in Britain in 1977 as a refugee from the persecution of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's brutal regime.

Along with his four siblings, the teenager was brought up and educated in Scotland, integrated into UK culture and, with his passport stamped "indefinite leave to stay", he regarded himself as British.

After almost 30 years living in Fife and then London, bringing up two children - a girl now 19 and an 11-year-old son - and establishing a business that has involved working with some of the country's leading literary lights, Mr Leal regarded himself as settled in his adopted country.

But on Monday the 41-year-old arts and music promoter found himself under arrest and facing deportation to a country with which he has no connection - caught up in the scandal surrounding foreign prisoners and the knee-jerk reaction of a Home Secretary fighting for his political life.

Civil liberties campaigners fear Mr Leal's case may not be isolated and that other immigrants in similar situations may be rounded up in an attempt to defuse escalating public hysteria about foreign offenders.

About three years ago, Ernesto Leal was sentenced to 30 months in prison for grievous bodily harm with intent, after a brawl in a pub that he maintains was the result of a racial incident.

On the judge's advice, he served 18 months of his sentence, mostly in an open prison and was eventually released several months ago on probation, during which time he was electronically tagged for four months and ordered to report weekly, and then monthly, to the police.

No recommendation was made that he should be deported and, without any previous criminal convictions, he believed he had served his punishment and was prepared to rebuild his life in London with his long-term partner Collette Bowens, who is a paediatric nurse.

All that changed on Monday when, more than a year after his release from prison, he was arrested by 30 police officers at his London home and taken to Belmarsh detention centre where he was issued with a deportation order to Jamaica because it was stated he was "a threat to the public".

"Why he is being sent to Jamaica nobody knows," said his sister Sonia Leal, 36, yesterday.

"We have no connections there except that it is possible my family stopped over on the way from Chile when I was five years old and my brother was 13," said his sister, a worker with the anti-domestic violence charity Zero Tolerance in Edinburgh. She fears her brother is being made a political scapegoat.

"We were brought to this country by the United Nations and sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers because my father was tortured by Pinochet and his regime. Both my parents have suffered because of politics in the past and now they are suffering again.

"They are both in their seventies and living in London. Neither are in good health and this has devastated them. They fear their son is going to disappear ."

For 18 months in the mid- Seventies, the Leal family feared Ernesto's father was among the disappeared after he was arrested, held captive and tortured for his arts-based political activism during one of the most sinister and threatening periods of General Pinochet's government.

"My mother, who is 70, has regressed to when she was in Chile and my father was taken. She thinks her son is going to disappear and she is never going to see him again," said Ms Leal.

"Also my brother is my father's carer in London. I am petrified dad is going to die because of this, he has really bad heart problems and diabetes since he was tortured in Chile."

Ms Bowens said the raid on their home had been terrifying as she claimed officers broke in through a back-door and "ransacked" their personal possessions, interfered with her partner's computer, personal papers and files and removed his passport. The Home Office said that it did not comment on individual cases.

Yesterday, the author Irvine Welsh and the actress Elaine C Smith were among a host of celebrity friends backing calls for Mr Leal to be released immediately and for the deportation order to be lifted.

"This family left Chile in the 1970s to get way from dawn raids. I'm not condoning crime but just because your name is foreign you shouldn't be able to be rearrested and deported," said Smith.

Welsh, the Trainspotting author, who has known the Leals for years, described Ernesto Jnr as "just a Hearts supporter from Edinburgh". "He had a problem and went to the jail but he has met all his conditions of bail and there is no threat."

Ms Leal said: "Nobody is denying he committed a crime but it seems to me they are rounding up all the people that they know where they are while the ones they should be going after are all gone to ground by now."

"He is being penalised just for being 'foreign'," she added.

Iraqi Kurd wanted for attempted murder was allowed to stay

An Iraqi Kurd wanted for the attempted murder of a man and a sex attack on a teenage girl was allowed to stay in Britain despite a court recommending his deportation following a conviction for violence. Caliph Ali Asmar, 25, was released from prison and allowed back into the community after Home Office officials ruled that he could remain in this country, provoking a fresh row yesterday.

Police have described Asmar, a failed asylum-seeker, as a "dangerous and unpredictable man". He is wanted by Humberside Police for questioning in connection with an attack on a Latvian man in Hull on Good Friday. The 38-year-old victim was found with stab injuries and needed emergency surgery. Further inquiries revealed that Asmar may have also been involved in an earlier alleged sexual assault against a 15-year-old girl from Hull."It is alleged she was subjected to a serious sexual assault," Humberside Police confirmed.

Jason Bennetto

Imprisonable offences

As well as the more obvious violent crimes, offences which are also covered by Charles Clarke's statement include:

* Shoplifting

* Owning a dog which is dangerously out of control

* Cruelty to animals

* Stealing electricity

* Poaching

* Fraudulent use of a public telephone

* Avoiding fare/giving a false name on railways

* Undischarged bankrupt receiving credit

* Criminal damage (any value)

* Selling food of sub-standard quality

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