'I am a free man' says businessman after winning nine-year battle to stay in Britain

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The Independent Online

With five immigration guards standing watch over him, Ben James sat on the floor in the middle of his cell and started to cry.

He had made a failed attempt to cut his wrists with a plastic mirror and within an hour was due to be put on a plane and deported to Nigeria. The desperate moment, last June, was the lowest point in Mr James' nine-year fight to be accepted as British. His deportation was only stayed by aHome Office telephone call to Group 4's Tinsley House detention centre, near Gatwick, saying that the businessman's legal team had won him a reprieve by serving an injunction.

Yesterday Mr James, 31, was crying again - this time with joy - after winning an extraordinary battle with the Home Secretary over his right to live in this country. After a full independent readjudication of the case, His Honour Judge Dunn came to a "clear opinion that Benjamin James should not be deported". Jack Straw, who had resisted all clemency appeals, yesterday revoked the deportation order.

In September 1998 a worried Mr James had visited the The Independent's offices of to describe his plight. Slight, smartly-dressed and softly-spoken he explained how his father had brought him from Nigeria as a 14-year-old to study at an independent school in south London. Mr James had photographs of himself in his school uniform.

He said he had later been warned by his family not to come home and had to fend for himself when money for his school fees ran out. Mr James, who changed his name from Olawale Babatayo, did menial work before obtaining a job in the financial services industry and eventually setting up a commodity trading business.

His real problems began in 1991 when he went to the Home Office seeking to regularise his immigration status. He was told he was an illegal overstayer and would be deported. "I am a high taxpayer, I pay my mortgage and I have not got a criminal record but hard work and merit don't seem to count," he said.

Pleas on Mr James' behalf came from his local MP, the Government minister Tessa Jowell and Sir Herman Ouseley, then chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, but Mr Straw was unmoved.

He remained convinced by immigration officers' descriptions of Mr James as "a playboy son from a monied background" who had spent his money on "high living instead of school fees". Last summer, Mr James was seized at a south London police station to which he was required to report each month and taken to Gatwick. Sir Herman described it as an act of "crass inhumanity and arrogance".

After Mr James' release from Tinsley House, his case was reviewed at the High Court, where Mr Justice Scott Baker stunned the Home Office last September by stopping proceedings to suggest that Mr Straw submit the matter for fresh independent adjudication, claiming that previous hearings had not considered all the available evidence.

Celebrating at his flat in Peckham, south London, yesterday Mr James said: "No more reporting to the police station, no more hassle. I am a free man and I can at last get on with my life."