The flight left the UK shortly after 1am on Wednesday carrying seven people after 43 had their tickets cancelled following legal intervention in the days and hours before its departure.
The Home Office accused legal firms of “pursuing a range of claims to prevent the removal of these criminals”, pointing out that 18 legal challenges were made in the final 24 hours before deportation.
But lawyers said the last-minute legal claims, which have also arisen before previous charter flights to Jamaica over the past two years, were the result of poor access to legal advice for deportees.
Two individuals who faced deportation, both of whom arrived in the UK as children, attempted suicide in the hours before the flight, which led to them being rushed to hospital and meant they could not be removed.
One of the men, Akeem Finlay, 31, has a fresh asylum claim pending with the Home Office on the basis that he would face gang violence on return to Jamaica. He came to the UK aged 10 and has four British children.
Mr Finlay, who was discharged from hospital on Wednesday morning and taken back to the removal centre, told The Independent: “I didn’t want to be killed. I knew it would happen if I were sent back, and I just don’t want that to happen to me.
Describing how he felt when officers knocked on his cell door to take him to the flight, he said: “I was terrified. I just wanted to take my life. That would be a better way to go. No one would be there to bury me in Jamaica, here they would.”
His solicitor, Maria Thomas of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said she had been on the phone with her client when he was threatening to harm himself.
“I could hear officers shouting in the background. He was obviously distraught,” she said.
“The way they conduct these mass charter flights is inhumane and brutal. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, and the way people are treated leading up to these flights is horrific. I spent much of my evening with family members of deportees in tears on the phone.”
One of the seven people removed was a 66-year-old who is thought to be suffering from early-onset dementia and is physically frail. He is believed to have a Windrush case but is said to have had poor legal representation, which meant his case was not heard in time for the flight.
Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, said: “Ms Patel’s Home Office appears to have deported a Windrush man who was denied access to justice, and they have triggered extremely painful suicide attempts. This must be the last charter flight to Jamaica and the beginning of the end of mass expulsions altogether.”
Sonia Lenegan, the director of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, said legal aid was not automatically available for deportation cases, a “large part of the problem” facing those detained and served deportation orders on flights departing within days.
“It is difficult to see how removing people who have spent the majority of their lives in the UK, and who have families here, without giving them a proper opportunity to argue that they are entitled to stay can be described as a fair system,” she added.
One of those who had his flight ticket cancelled at the eleventh hour was Sanjay McLean, 41, who moved to the UK aged 12 and whose lawyers argue he has the right to British citizenship under the Windrush scheme.
Despite submitting a Windrush scheme application over the weekend, the father-of-two was placed on a van and taken to Stanstead Airport. It wasn’t until about an hour before the flight left that he was told he would not be deported.
Speaking to The Independent at 11.15pm on Tuesday, he said: “I’m not in a good place, I don’t know how to feel, round and round, I thought a weight was lifted off my shoulders, and now they’re doing this again. I’m an emotional wreck right now.”
Naga Kandiah, his solicitor, said: “It is disheartening that every time the Home Office attempts to enforce draconian and often unlawful policies that result in breaking families and deporting British nationals, lawyers and activists have to muster all of their energy and resources to make the Home Office realise the error of its ways.”
The flight went ahead despite concerns raised by Jamaican authorities over public health after several detainees due to be removed tested positive for Covid-19.
Lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie said it was wrong that the Home Office pursued the deportations despite there being “irrefutable evidence that the British government misled the Jamaican government on Covid protocols, putting at risk Jamaica’s already challenged health care system”.
She said there was also “clear evidence” of a Windrush connection among deportees, adding: “The practice is cruel and inhumane. It is unacceptable and requires a more concentrated effort to halt this ghastly practice.”
Ms Patel said on Wednesday: “These individuals are responsible for some of most appalling crimes – rape, assault, grievous bodily harm, drug offences and sexual assault of children. The government uses every means to continue to remove foreign nationals who have committed crimes against our citizens.”
The Home Office said it managed charter flight operations carefully and only removed people when it was safe to do so, adding that all those on the flight would be seen by a healthcare professional before departure.
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, the Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
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