Exclusive: James Matthews was awaiting the outcome of his application to remain in the UK when he was unexpectedly swooped upon by seven immigration enforcement officers.
James Matthews, 33, was awaiting the outcome of his application for leave to remain when seven immigration officers stormed into his home, claiming that he was in the country illegally, before he was taken to Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (IRC).
The former banker at Jamaica National Bank had applied for leave to remain on the basis of his relationship with a British citizen in July 2020, but the Home Office said this application was refused in February. However, Mr Matthews says neither he nor his previous legal representatives were notified about this or served with the refusal decision.
In light of this, his solicitors argue that he is still lawfully resident in the UK with an in-country right of appeal. This means Mr Matthews’ detention is unlawful, as would be his removal from this country, according to his legal representatives.
In a pre-action letter sent to the Home Office on Thursday by MTC Solicitors, which represents Mr Matthews, they request the immediate removal of their client from detention, the cancellation of his deportation order, a copy of the refusal decision, details of where, how and when the refusal decision was served on their client – and a response by 5pm on Friday.
The Home Office failed to respond by the deadline, The Independent has learned, meaning Mr Matthews’ solicitors will take further action.
“Our client has done everything in his power to comply with the rules; the Home Office have failed to justify their inhumane and cruel decision to detain him and put him on the charter flight,” solicitor Naga Kandiah said.
“Mr Matthews arrived in the UK legally and his permission to be in the UK was extended until 31 July 2020 because of the pandemic. He applied to extend his leave to remain in July 2020 before his visa expired.
“ There is no suggestion he has any criminal convictions. It appears that a decision has not been provided to our client, which is confirmed by his previous representative who completed the application for him”.
Mr Matthews was woken by a loud bang on the front door of his home in Ilford, east London, at around 5am last Friday. He found himself surrounded by immigration officers, who he said told him he was being deported. The 33-year-old begged for answers – at which point he was informed of his “overstayer” status.
“I’ve abided by every single rule. How can I be an ‘overstayer’ when the Home Office hasn’t responded to my application to remain here? As far as I was concerned, I have an active application,” Mr Matthews told The Independent from his cell at Harmondsworth.
“I’m far from okay; I’m used to having my freedom. I am coping as well as I can but I’m still traumatised. When they were banging the front door and then I heard someone say my name, I was shocked. I’ve never committed a crime in either this country or Jamaica.”
Mr Matthews came to the UK in October 2019 on a visitor’s visa and was unable to return to Jamaica at the time when this expired in April 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while travel to and from Jamaica was suspended.
The Home Office extended his stay to 31 July 2020 due to these extenuating circumstances and he was advised of his right to apply for leave to remain in the UK from within this country – referred to as “in house” – again due to the Covid pandemic which is lodged on 28 July 2020.
In normal circumstances, an applicant would have to travel to their country of birth and then lodge an application to remain in the UK from there. Mr Matthews has previously visited the UK, to see his two brothers and father who lives here, on various occasions without breaching the terms of his visa.
While awaiting the outcome of his battle to remain in the UK, the 33-year-old is grappling with feelings of sadness, confusion, angst and humiliation.
“Everyone should be entitled to the freedom and right to live their lives and be happy. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case here. If I had done something wrong then this would have been my mistake but I did everything by the book. I’m not a criminal – so why am I being treated like one?”
Mr Matthews now says he is experiencing high blood pressure for the first time in his life, as well as frequent headaches, which he attributes to stress.
“I pinch myself sometimes because it feels like this has to be a bad dream” he added, explaining that prior to this, he thought the UK to be a beacon of equality.
“I’m praying that God will bring me through; there’s a motto that says ‘prayer and work will conquer all.’ I’ve been praying, the lawyer is working and I’m hoping this will conquer all.”
Mr Matthews’ fiancée, who has asked to remain anonymous, says the gravity of the situation has been difficult for the couple to cope with. She believes there is an element of racism to how he has been treated.
“During the day I get on with it, busy myself, focus on work, check with the MP’s office for an update and talk to the lawyer [about Matthew’s case] which is a necessary distraction. But the reality hits me most at night times,” she said. “I haven’t been able to talk to my friends about it; it’s hard when no one has been in this position and James is quite a private person.
“Living in this country – which I do love – has made it so difficult to be in a relationship with someone from another country. Given the treatment that James has received, even while in the detention centre, I can’t help but feel that there’s an element of racism to it.”
The couple’s local MP, Wes Streeting, is looking into this matter.
Most of the Jamaican people facing deportation from the UK next week live with a disability or health problem and came to Britain as children, according to analysis shared with The Independent this week.
The Home Office has not disclosed how many are scheduled to be on Wednesday’s flight, but around 20 people have been detained at Brook House, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth detention centres ahead of this. Thirteen of them came to the UK under the age of 18, according to a study by campaigners Movement for Justice.
Of those being detained, some with difficult criminal histories, the majority have been out of prison without reoffending for several years including over a decade, suggesting that the bar for deportation is at an all-time low.
The government has previously insisted that deportation flights were designed to remove “dangerous foreign criminals” from the UK, however Mr Matthews – a previous candidate for Jamaica’s Constabulary Force – does not meet this criteria and is a law-abiding citizen.
“It’s a myth that this practice is about societal safety or immigration control. It’s about terrorising the Black community for political gain,” immigration solicitor Jacqueline McKenzie said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Those with no right to be in the UK, including foreign national offenders, should be in no doubt that we will do whatever is necessary to remove them. This is what the public rightly expects and why we regularly operate flights to different countries.
“The New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken immigration system and stop the abuse we are seeing by expediting the removal of those who have no right to be here.”
Harmondsworth IRC and Jamaica’s High Commissioner to the UK, Seth Ramocan, have been approached for comment.