The Home Office has gone ahead with a planned deportation flight to Jamaica, but some detainees due on the flight did not leave after a last-minute Court of Appeal intervention.
On Monday evening the Home Office was ordered not to deport many of the detainees amid concerns mobile phone outages had prevented access to legal advice.
Lady Justice Simler said detainees held in detention centres close to Heathrow should not be removed unless the Home Office is satisfied they “had access to a functioning, non-O2 Sim card on or before February 3”.
According to campaign group Detention Action, around 56 people were being held in the two Heathrow detention centres.
On Tuesday, 17 people were flown to Jamaica.
It is not known exactly how many people were being held in the third centre - Brook House - which was not covered by the court order.
All the detainees have been convicted of offences which received a sentence of at least one year in prison, however, a number of them are thought to have been convicted of one-time drug offences when they were young and have lived in the UK “for most of their lives”.
But Government ministers have defended the flight, saying the detainees have been convicted of serious crimes including drug trafficking, violence and firearms offences.
On Tuesday after a plane was pictured leaving Stansted, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Today 17 serious foreign criminals were deported from the UK.
"They were convicted of rape, violent crimes and drug offences and had a combined sentence length of 75 years, as well as a life sentence.
“We make no apology whatsoever for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals.
“We will be urgently pursuing the removal of those who were prevented from boarding the flight due to a legal challenge over a mobile network failure.”
They added the Home Office "regrets" the court ruling "which prevented the removal from our country of foreign criminals convicted of rape, sexual attacks, violence and drug crimes which spread misery across our communities".
The Government had previously defended the deportation decision, saying it is "criminality not nationality which counts", despite concerns the Windrush scandal could be repeated.
- Who was deported?
The Home Office said the 17 people deported to Jamaica on Tuesday included:
- Two rapists
- One person with a conviction for violent assault
- One person convicted of wounding with intent to cause GBH
- One person convicted of violent crime against a person
- Eight people with drugs offences
- One person convicted of robbery
- One person convicted of robbery with a firearm
- One person convicted of conspiracy to rob and possession of a firearm
- One persoconvicted of burglary
- What have campaigners said?
Bella Sankey of Detention Action said the campaign group believed that some of the people who were due for deportation were not on the flight because they were covered by a Court of Appeal order, but those who it did not cover were on the plane.
"We are trying to ensure that all of those covered by the protection of the court were not removed and that the Government did not breach the court order," Ms Sankey said.
"We think that what is most likely is that people were taken from Brook House [Immigration Removal Centre] and put on the flight and those are the people who have probably gone because that detention centre was not covered by the order.
"Most importantly we have spent the last few days gathering further evidence from people that were being held at Brook House that they experienced similar problems with access to justice, so there are huge question marks over whether those people that have been removed have actually had their rights breached.
"We will be thinking about pursuing redress and trying to understand whether that has happened."
Ms Sankey continued she believed the flight was "an early show of strength from the Government on its agenda on these issues".
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said: "Our thoughts are with the families who have just been forced apart by the Government, with the children who have lost their fathers, with the women who've become single mothers overnight.
"Two Government commissioned independent reviews, the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and the Shaw Review have both said the Government should stop deporting people who arrived here as children.
"The Government has not published the Windrush Review or addressed its recommendations in any way, and without that it is unlawful for deportation of those who have been here since childhood to continue.
"It's deeply unjust if people who grew up here, whose lives and families are here, can be exiled to a country which is totally foreign to them.
"They are British in every meaningful way and if the law allows those people to be exiled, it needs to change."
- What has the Government said?
Chancellor and former home secretary Sajid Javid has defended the deportation decision, saying the Government will "always do what we can to protect the public".
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live the Chancellor said: "These are all foreign national offenders - they have all received custodial sentences of 12 months or more.
"They are responsible for crimes like manslaughter, rape, dealing in class A drugs.
"And it is absolutely right, when they have served their sentence, that we send them out of the country because they are not British nationals, they are not members of the Windrush generation, they are all foreign national offenders."
- What happened on Monday and what is the court ruling about?
The Court of Appeal ruling on Monday ordered the Home Office not to deport anyone held in two detention centres close to Heathrow – Colnbrooke and Harmondsworth – amid concerns mobile phone outages had prevented access to legal advice.
Lady Justice Simler said those detainees should not be removed unless the Home Office is satisfied they “had access to a functioning, non-O2 Sim card on or before February 3”.
The judge granted the order without a court hearing following an urgent application on paper by charity Detention Action.
The charity argued that some of the detainees at the two Heathrow centres still do not have a functioning mobile phone, following issues with an O2 phone mast in the area.
But the order does not apply to Brook House detention centre, which is close to Gatwick, although campaigners say detainees have experienced similar problems with communication networks.
- What else happened on Monday?
The flight sparked a protest outside Downing Street on Monday evening, which ended up with demonstrators blocking the roads around Parliament Square.
There were heated scenes in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon as Labour MPs put in an urgent question on the matter for the Government. There were shouts of "shame" as Home Secretary Priti Patel left the chamber, leaving junior minister Kevin Foster to respond.
Mr Foster insisted no British nationals were on the flight and said deportation rules were applied on "the criminality, not the nationality of the offender", adding: "The foreign nationals on that flight have been sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison.
"The offences are, as we said, relate to everything from sex offending, serious drug trafficking offences, violent offences, firearms offences."
Mr Foster was repeatedly asked by MPs for more specific information on the nature of offences committed by those on the flight but refused to provide more detail.
More than 170 MPs signed a letter calling on the Prime Minister to step in and stop the flight.
- Has anything else been said about deportations?
The flight follows news of a leaked report commissioned by ministers in the wake of the Windrush scandal which warned the Government that the deportation policy should be reconsidered in all but the "most severe cases".
Written in June 2019, the document said: "Government should review its policy and approach to FNOs (foreign national offenders), if necessary through primary legislation.
"It should consider ending all deportations of FNOs where they arrived in the UK as children (say before age of 13).
"Alternatively - deportation should only be considered in the most severe cases."