A woman from Gujarat who was bullied, unlawfully detained and falsely imprisoned in 2011 after arriving at Heathrow for a family visit, has been awarded 125,000 pounds in damages by a high court judge who passed severe strictures against immigration officers.
Radha Patel, 34, who was travelling for the first time outside India to visit her family in Harrow, London, was accused of entering the UK for work instead of a family visit, and then detained, despite her insisting during interviews that work was not the reason for the visit.
Setting out in detail the several lapses on the part of immigration officers, Judge Anthony Thornton said: “It is to be deeply regretted that this behaviour was meted out to a wholly blameless family visitor who was an adult, female, vulnerable lone traveller whose sole purpose in entering the UK was to pay an extended family visit to her parents and other close members of her family who were permanently resident in the UK and three of whom were British nationals who she had not previously visited in the UK”.
He added: “For her, it was intended to be a family visit of a lifetime that turned into a nightmare of unimagined proportions. That nightmare was only rescued and brought to an end by her courage and determination and that of her family members with the assistance of the professional expertise of her counsel and legal representative”.
The judgement delivered on 30 July said that Patel was unlawfully detained and falsely imprisoned between 23 and 29 May 2011; the decisions to detain her were ultra vires, unlawful, taken for an ulterior motive and unreasonable; and that she was entitled to and was awarded substantial damages for unlawful detention, false imprisonment.
Patel, a housewife from Gujarat, was invited by her younger sister who had emigrated to the UK in 2003 to visit them. Her husband was working in the Seychelles and their two children were being looked after by her in-laws in Gujarat.
Patel's sister sponsored the visit by paying for all her travel and living expenses for the planned three-month visit. But Patel’s initial interview at Heathrow airport was not conducted fairly, reliably noted down on the landing card and the language in which it was conducted was in Hindi which she barely spoke.
“What seems to have happened is that (the immigration officer) had an initial hunch or prejudiced assumption that Radha's purpose in coming to the UK was to obtain unlawful employment and to remain unlawfully in the UK after her visa had expired and that her answers as translated to him which appeared to deny any intention to work or obtain employment or to overstay were lies”, the judgement said.
The judge said that Patel’s evidence was “credible and reliable” and she had consistently denied during lengthy interviews that she intended to take paid employment sewing curtains.
“She was detained in particularly extreme and unlawful circumstances in that the detaining officer from the outset was clearly determined to detain and remove her without the slightest evidence available to him to support that course of action. Throughout, he was determined to create grounds for removal and detention where none existed and he resorted to a series of unlawful stratagems to achieve his ends”, the judgement said.
The judgement added: “She was a single, obviously vulnerable and easily frightened woman in her early 30s who had rarely travelled, was tired and anxious and was known to have a brother waiting for her to whom she could turn for assistance had that been allowed".
"She was terrified throughout, she was provided with no access to outside assistance, she was formally interviewed in significant breach of the relevant guidance, admissions were invented and then attributed to her and the relevant documents were created after she her leave had been terminated and she had been detained”.
The judge awarded her 110,000 pounds in general and aggravated damages and under the Human Rights Act, and 15,000 in exemplary damages payable when the abuse of power by public officials is particularly oppressive and arbitrary.
The judge gave the Home Office permission to appeal.