Will Woodward, David Hencke and Vikram Dodd, Guardian (London), May 3, 2006
The home secretary, Charles Clarke, faced fresh pressure over his handling of foreign prisoners when the police revealed the prime suspect in the killing of Bradford policewoman Sharon Beshenivsky was a Somali man who had not been deported from Britain to protect his human rights.
Mustaf Jammal is a prime suspect in the murder last November of the Bradford policewoman gunned down in a travel agent’s.
Mr Clarke will make a statement today to the House of Commons on his department’s tracking of 1,023 foreign criminals who were not deported after serving their sentences — the second time in eight days that he has been forced to explain the crisis to MPs.
Jammal, 25, had previously been convicted for robbery and drug offences, and had been considered for deportation last spring after being released from prison for another offence. Immigration officials looked at the case but because he was from war-torn Somalia decided no action could be taken.
The government was originally under attack after it emerged the Prison Service and the immigration department had breached their own orders and allowed the release of more than 1,000 foreign prisoners without any consideration at all for deportation. Jammal was not one of the 1,023 but is one of nearly 2,000 foreign prisoners since 1999 who had been allowed to stay in the country after Home Office consideration.
Mr Clarke will face charges that government policy puts the human rights of prisoners ahead of those of murdered British police officers.
Foreign prisoners are allowed to stay in Britain after serving their sentence if their offence is not deemed serious, they have a previously good record, or their deportation might break up a family. Someone even considered as liable for deportation is often allowed to stay if Britain has no agreement on deportation with their country of origin, the individual has no relevant papers to prove their nationality, or the country refuses to accept them back.
In a statement to MPs today Mr Clarke will have to defend the decision to allow Jammal to stay in the UK even though he had been guilty of numerous previous offences.
The news is embarrassing since in August Tony Blair promised to change deportation rules after the terrorist attacks in Britain. Senior backbenchers have been privately calling on the government to shift the burden of proof so that the individual has to prove they will be persecuted if they are forced to return to their country of origin.
Ministers have been opposed to such deportations on the grounds that they first needed memorandums of understanding with the relevant government that anyone deported will not be the victim of torture or persecution.
But with governments such as Somalia such agreements have not been regarded as feasible. The local government minister David Miliband said such individuals had not been deported due to “squeamishness” by the government but either because no government existed or no agreement could be reached. Some countries such as Zimbabwe refused to cooperate, he said.
Marsha Singh, the Labour MP for Bradford West, accepted the explanation but said he was reserving judgment on the home secretary until today’s statement. “He’s in a pickle. There should be a very strict policy of removing foreign nationals who commit crimes in this country. We’ve got enough undesirables of our own.” Make-or-break time for Mr Clarke was “fast coming”, Mr Singh said, though he expected that to be Mr Blair’s reshuffle after tomorrow’s local elections.
Mr Clarke could also face an investigation from the parliamentary ombudsman, Ann Abraham, into the mistaken release of foreign prisoners who should have been deported.