Trial witness ‘left suicidal’ after UK threatens to deport him to same country as criminal he helped prosecute

Exclusive: Sameer Shaikh says he feels ‘betrayed and helpless’ after Home Office orders him to leave country despite previously implying he would be protected in UK after being named witness in high-profile trial

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 18 May 2019 14:59 BST
Man promised protection in UK for giving evidence for Home Office threatened with removal

A man who gave evidence for the Home Office in court on the proviso that he would be granted protection in the UK has been threatened with deportation to a country where he fears reprisals as a result of the trial.

Indian national Sameer Shaikh said he felt betrayed and helpless after the department refused his request for leave to remain despite previously implying that he would be granted UK status for being a named witness in a high-profile trial into suspected immigration fraud.

Lawyers and campaigners described the case as “particularly shocking” and “extremely unusual”, and warned that such cases would “undermine any trust that exists in the Home Office”.

The East Ham resident, who came to Britain on a student visa in 2008, had agreed to give evidence against his former boss Fassiuddin Mohammad, who ran one of the agencies called Bright Consultant Services found to be administering fraudulent language tests exposed in a BBC Panorama documentary in 2014.

Having worked at the agency in East Ham, Shaikh was allegedly threatened and blackmailed by his boss to get involved in the scandal. He was told by immigration officials that if he pleaded guilty, he could act as a witness for the prosecution.

Shaikh, who was seeking asylum at the time of the trial, said he was given assurances by officers from the Home Office’s criminal and financial investigations team that he would be protected from any repercussions from Mohammad, who was also from India and reportedly knew where Shaikh lived.

The crime team granted Shaikh temporary leave to remain for the duration of the trial, and after it ended in May 2016, one of the officers – who cannot be named for legal reasons – told Shaikh in text messages seen by The Independent that he would “make an application for [him] to stay”.

However, two months later – weeks before Shaikh’s temporary visa was to expire – the officer stopped responding to his texts and emails. In one email seen by The Independent, dated 11 July 2017, Shaikh writes: “Please sir, reply to me or call me back. I am really worried and panicking.”

The officer replied to Shaikh on 20 July, informing him that he had “looked at the options” and there was “nothing” that he could assist him with other than supplying a supporting letter confirming his assistance in giving evidence in the trial.

Shaikh said that at this point he felt “really betrayed and helpless”, adding: “I didn’t have a solicitor at that time, I didn’t have proper advice. I had only a few weeks until my visa was expiring. I didn’t have enough money to make an application because I was working part-time.”

He managed to submit an application for indefinite leave to remain, which included a supporting letter from the Home Office crime team officer stating that the convictions secured in the English language test scandal were “no doubt in no small part due to the evidence supplied by Mr Shaikh” and that there may be “repercussions from within his own community and from associates of the criminal network in India”.

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Nevertheless, Shaikh’s application was refused in February 2018. The refusal letter stated that if he did not appeal the decision and remained in the country he could be deported to India.

Shaikh is currently appealing the decision, but said he was terrified of being removed to India due to threats from Mohammad, who absconded to the country before the trial.

“After I saw the refusal letter I became depressed. I had suicidal thoughts. I just felt I had nowhere to go now. I felt really let down and betrayed,” he said.

“When I agreed to give evidence the officer kept saying they had ‘policies in place’ to protect witnesses, and that ‘as long as I don’t worry, you don’t worry’. He kept using these phrases and sentences, which really assured me, and gave me expectations that I’d be protected.

“If an immigration officer – who is in a position of trust and power – says something like this, I have no reason to not trust him or to disbelieve or question him.

“I believed in the government, I believed in the system. That’s why I was encouraged to go along with this. But they just left me totally helpless.”

A letter from Shaikh’s doctor at Lathom Road Medical Centre states that he would be “at risk of serious physical harm” if he returns to India.

It continues: “I also believe that if he returns to India, he may act on his suicidal ideation as he will not have the coping mechanisms he has access to here in the UK. In my view it would be detrimental to his physical and mental health if he returns to India.”

Another medical letter, from the East London NHS Foundation Trust, states: “Mr Shaikh reported experiencing thoughts that he would be better off dead on more than half the days in the last two weeks. He stated that this has been triggered by direct and indirect threats of people in India.”

Responding to the case, Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “This is a particularly shocking case. The Home Office has gone back on its word to a vulnerable man who was effectively promised leave to remain.

“But it also indicates the terrible immigration regime under this government because of the hostile environment. Shocking cases like this one will recur unless and until the hostile environment policy ends.”

Labour MP Stephen Timms has been supporting Shaikh, his constituent, since July 2017, writing in one letter to the immigration minister: “Mr Shaikh’s case is – in my 25 years’ experience as MP – extremely unusual."

He proceeded to state that it appeared a "promise made on behalf of the department was not honoured".

Shaikh’s solicitor Fiyaz Saeed, director of Legal Eagles Solicitors, said: “This approach undermines any trust that exists in the Home Office and damages us as a society by clogging up the courts system with appeals that simply should not have had to be made if the papers were properly looked at in the first place.

“It also means less people will be prepared to assist the Home Office in stepping forward and becoming witnesses so that the really bad in our society can be caught and convicted.

“It is beyond doubt to me that Sameer was promised by the Home Office that he would be protected from harm in accordance with the Home Office policy, and to not grant him that protection by continuing to grant him leave is simply wrong.

“He has now been forced to turn to the press and advertise his case despite the clear threat of harm he faces. I hope this article will get the attention of some of the other witnesses who were also promised leave.”

In a witness statement, the Home Office officer who sent the text stating that he would make an application for Shaikh to stay, said: “I have never suggested to Mr Shaikh that I would be able to guarantee or obtain any form of indefinite leave to remain on his behalf.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “As legal proceedings are ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment.”

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