Footballer 'faces death' after losing asylum case

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The Independent Football

A professional footballer faces deportation to Sierra Leone, where he says he will be killed if he returns, after losing his case at an Asylum and Immigration Tribunal.

Al Bangura, 19, who plays for the Championship-leading side, Watford and whose girlfriend gave birth last week to a son, Samal has 10 days to lodge an appeal against being forcibly returned to the country after a civil war in which his father was stabbed to death.

"This is terrible news for all and a big shock to everyone at Watford FC," said Iain Moody, head of football operations at the club. "I spoke to Al on the phone after we heard the decision last night. He is confused and frankly scared what might now happen to him and his family."

Mr Bangura won discretionary leave to stay at an initial hearing in June only to face what was, in effect, a retrial on 26 November after the Home Office spotted a legal mistake in the judge's summing up.

The footballer spoke before his latest hearing about the perils he would face back in Sierra Leone. "I'd get hurt," he said. "I won't be safe. If I go back, something will happen to me. Someone will come straight up to me and stab me. I'll lose my life."

Mr Bangura, who is regaining fitness after dislocating his ankle, says he has lost all contact with his mother and surviving sister. "Watford FC is my family," he added.

Watford's players responded with shock after the news was broken to them before training yesterday. They plan to wearT-shirts highlighting their team-mate's plight at Saturday's home game against Plymouth Argyle.

A petition established by supporters a week ago, has already gained 2,000 signatures.

Watford's manager, Adrian Boothroyd, who testified at both hearings, said: "After the immigration hearing, I said I had faith in British justice but obviously I was totally mistaken because it's a completely ludicrous decision.

"This country, great as it once was, seems to allow anybody in to send benefits wherever they fancy and we have one young man here who pays his taxes, has a fiance and a newborn son and somebody, somewhere, thinks it's a good decision to send him back to Sierra Leone. We've been sent a document with the reasons why he's being deported and they are ridiculous."

Before the ruling, Claire Ward, the MP for Watford told BBC radio: "He has made a very good life for himself and is a significant contributor to the UK economy and to my local economy as a constituent."

Mr Bangura claims he first went into hiding in 2003 after being asked to join a secret sect that believed in extreme rituals that included self-mutilation. His father, who was killed when Mr Bangura was four years old, had been head of the sect, and his son was expected to join when he reached adolescence.

He fled to neighbouring Guinea, where he was befriended by a Frenchman who promised he could get him into the UK but did not tell Mr Bangura he was being groomed as a male prostitute.

"They arrived via the Eurostar," Mr Moody said. "Al said he was taken to a house where they met these other two guys, and it seemed as if he was being sold. The two guys then attempted to rape him but he got away and ran into the street in his underclothes and started shouting for help."

He was taken to a Home Office reception centre in Croydon, where he claimed asylum as an unaccompanied minor.

Mr Bangura's talent as a footballer was spotted by Watford scouts when he played for a youth side in Chertsey and he signed for the club's academy, making his first-team debut in April 2005.

The Watford midfielder, who was voted Young Player of the Year two seasons ago and was given the captaincy for one game earlier this season, is not the only high-profile sporting personality facing deportation. Hartley Alleyne, 50, the former Kent, Worcestershire and West Indies cricketer, who now teaches at St Edmunds School, Canterbury, is appealing against a decision to repatriate him to Barbados because he does not have a relevant coaching qualification, an NVQ level 3.