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Theresa May loses ruling in case over man who arrived in UK on back of a lorry

Published 06/11/2015

It was the second time a court had ruled against Theresa May during the case
It was the second time a court had ruled against Theresa May during the case

Home Secretary Theresa May has suffered a second defeat in a damages fight with an Iranian immigrant detained by officials after arriving in England on the back of a lorry.

A judge had concluded that the 20-year-old man - who was 16 when he arrived three years ago - had twice been unlawfully detained, following a High Court hearing in London in July 2014.

And a Home Office appeal against that ruling was today dismissed.

Three appeal judges ruled against Mrs May - following a Court of Appeal hearing in London.

They said the amount of the damages the man, who was not identified in a written appeal court ruling, would get had yet to be decided.

Judges heard that the teenager had been seen getting out of a lorry on the A2 in Kent on July 2 2012 - and had been arrested by police.

A short time later he had been detained under immigration legislation and taken to a Home Office "enforcement unit" in Dover.

Deputy High Court Judge Simon Picken had, in July 2014, concluded that Home Office officials had unlawfully detained the teenager for an hour and 20 minutes on July 2.

He also concluded that they had later unlawfully detained him for 25 days - between July 17 and August 10 2012.

The three appeal judges - Lady Justice Black, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lord Justice Burnett - endorsed Judge Picken's ruling.

They said a central issue had been the teenager's age at the time he arrived in the UK.

He had given immigration officials his date of birth as September 21 1995 - and said he was 16.

Immigration officials had subsequently handed him into the care of social services staff.

He had stayed in the care of social services staff until July 17.

During that time staff had assessed his age and concluded that he had been born in 1993 not 1995 and was "an adult".

He had then once more been detained by immigration officials.

His lawyers then challenged the age assessment and provided copies of his birth certificate, national identity card and Iranian school certificate.

Social services staff had re-assessed his age and concluded that he was 16 - the age he had originally claimed - and he had been released from immigration detention on August 10.

The man said he had not been referred to social services staff quickly enough on July 2 - and Judge Picken ruled in his favour.

Judge Picken also ruled that the second period of detention was unlawful. He said the Home Office had failed to comply with its own "assessing age" guidance.

Lawyers representing the Home Office had argued that officials' referral to social services staff on July 2 had been "timely and appropriate" not unlawful.

They also argued that officials had complied with their obligations in relation to the second period of detention.

Barrister Stephanie Harrison QC, who is based at Garden Court Chambers and represented the man, said after today's appeal court ruling: "Despite abandoning the use of detention of children in 2010, this case sadly shows that the practice continues.

"The Home Office is failing to properly apply its own policy when detaining those it wrongly disputes are children, which exposes them to detention with adults in wholly inappropriate conditions where their welfare cannot be properly safeguarded."

Officials at the Refugee Council also raised concerns.

"It's wholly unacceptable that years on from the Government promising to end child detention for immigration purposes, children are still finding themselves unlawfully thrown behind bars alongside adults," said Lisa Doyle, the council's head of advocacy.

"Children within the asylum system are already extremely vulnerable. It's morally reprehensible that they are consistently put at further risk by the authorities who are supposed to be protecting them. Children should be treated as children first, regardless of their immigration status."

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