A Nigerian illegal immigrant thought to have married a British woman after being charged with a crime won a court fight with Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May when judges ruled that deportation would be a human rights breach.
Home Office officials had ordered the man's deportation three years ago - about 18 months after he married and 11 months after he was convicted of handling stolen goods and given an 18-month jail term.
But the Court of Appeal today ruled that the man should stay. Three appeal judges refused to overturn a decision by an immigration tribunal, which had concluded that deportation would not be in the best interests of his teenage step-daughter.
The tribunal had been told that the girl - who met the man when she was about 13 - did not have any involvement with her birth father and regarded the man as her "de facto father".
It concluded that having a "de facto father" was in the youngster's best interests and said deporting the man would be a breach of a right to family life enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Appeal judges - who included Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, and the second most senior judge in England and Wales - said they could find "no basis" for interfering with the tribunal's decision.
And they dismissed an appeal by Mrs May following a hearing in London.
Appeal judges were told that the man had entered the UK illegally in 1998, claimed asylum in 2006, married in March 2009 and been convicted of handling stolen goods in November 2009. Home Office officials had refused his asylum claim and made a deportation order in October 2010.
The man had initially challenged the deportation ruling before a first-tier immigration tribunal - and lost. He had then asked an upper immigration tribunal to review his case - and won. Mrs May had then challenged that upper tribunal decision in the Court of Appeal.
Lord Dyson said, in a written judgment, that the man had married "at a time when it was known by all concerned that his immigration status was precarious and probably at a time when he had already been charged".
He said the Home Office officials had conceded that it would not be reasonable to expect the man's wife and step-daughter to live in Nigeria.
And the upper tribunal had felt that it was in the child's "best interests" to have a "de facto father as she grows up" - and after weighing evidence had been satisfied that deportation would not be proportionate.
"They conducted a meticulous assessment of the factors weighing in favour of deportation and those weighing against," said Lord Dyson.
"As they said, the factors in favour of deportation were substantial. They properly gave significant weight to the serious view taken by the Secretary of State of (his) criminality and his poor immigration history. On the other hand, they attached considerable importance to the interests of (the girl). The decision was finely balanced."
He added: "But they did not take into account any irrelevant factors and they did not fail to take into account any relevant factors. In these circumstances, the upper tribunal were entitled to strike the balance in favour of (the man). We can find no basis for interfering with their decision."
Lord Dyson, who sat with Lord Justice Davis and Lady Justice Gloster, did not name the man.