Deportation flight to Jamaica departs without 37 of the 50 passengers due to fly
A deportation flight has left the UK for Jamaica carrying a quarter of the passengers who were due to leave the country.
The Home Office said 13 people were on the scheduled flight which was originally due to carry 50 passengers.
The 13 had combined jail terms of more than 100 years, including three convicted of murder, another of manslaughter, while others had been sentenced for crimes like grooming, drug dealing, burglary and robbery, it said.
A number of last-minute legal challenges were launched by campaign groups and human rights lawyers which meant many of the 50 passengers did not board the plane.
Some Jamaican nationals who had been due to be on the aircraft are said to have been granted a legal reprieve after the Home Office reportedly acknowledged they may be victims of modern slavery.
According to charities, lawyers had also gone to court to prevent parents set to be on the flight being separated from their children, who would be left behind in the UK.
Home Office minister Chris Philp said: “In the early hours of this morning, 13 serious foreign criminals were deported from the UK.
“It is disappointing that specialist immigration law firms continued to use last-minute tactics to remove a significant number of offenders from this flight.
“These individuals had every opportunity to raise the claims in the days and weeks leading up to the flight; however, a significant number of claims were not submitted until hours before the flight was due to leave – meaning murderers and rapists have been able to stay in the UK.”
Speaking in the House of Lords on Tuesday Tory frontbencher Baroness Williams of Trafford said all those being deported had served a prison sentence of a year or more, including some for “very serious crimes indeed”.
Campaigners tried to halt the flight amid the continuing fallout over the Windrush scandal, which saw people with a right to live in the UK wrongfully detained or expelled.
However, the government insisted the flight was to remove “dangerous foreign criminals” from the country and none of the offenders were eligible for the Windrush compensation scheme.
Dozens of MPs wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel calling for the cancelling of the flight, saying “some of the individuals affected arrived in this country as children. Many now have children of their own. Britain is their home”.
The signatories, which included Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and John McDonnell, said: “Deportations epitomise the Government’s continued Hostile Environment agenda.”
Speaking in the Lords on Tuesday, former Conservative minister Lord Vaizey of Didcot pointed out that the deportations were taking place under legislation passed by the last Labour government and that the removals to Jamaica made up only a very small percentage of those undertaken each year.
He said: “It is wholly wrong to conflate the scandal of Windrush with this case. The government is dealing with the fallout from the Windrush scandal but this case has nothing to do with it.”