When he arrived in the UK from Pakistan, the story of Ahmer Rana–15, orphaned, homeless and in fear of his life–touched the hearts of those he met.
The teenager found himself with foster parents, a school place and a petition signed by 4,000 supporters–including his local MP–asking the Home Office not to deport him.
But he now has a lot of explaining to do to the people of his adopted home in Carmarthen, south-west Wales, after his story was exposed as a tissue of lies.
His name is actually Daniyal Shahzad, he is a year older than he claimed to be, and his parents, far from being killed, are both alive and well. The UK Border Agency uncovered the lies and has rejected his plea to stay in the Britain.
Mr Shahzad has admitted that he came to Britain to send cash home to his family.
He said: ‘I would like to say sorry to my friends in school who have supported me. I have let everyone down. I think I’m the same person that they know–I haven’t changed. I hope they’ll forgive me. If I could go back I would change everything. I would tell the truth.’
Mr Shahzad has been living in Wales since 2008, when he moved in with foster parents John and Lesley Hillard and began attending Queen Elizabeth High School.
He pretended his birthday was on Christmas Day and that he would be forced to leave last December when he turned 18. So two days before Christmas his supporters travelled to London to present a petition to the Home Office calling for him not to be deported.
Mr Shahzad claimed the whole saga began with ‘one small lie to the Home Office and snowballed out of control’ and that he had lived in fear of discovery. He said: ‘The true reason I came here was to earn money to send back to my family.
Mr Shahzad added that he felt relieved that the truth was finally out but said he was ‘scared’ at facing his friends.
He still wants to stay in Britain–and hopes his supporters will help him still fight deportation.
His foster parents said they had been left ‘absolutely shocked’ by the revelations.
Mr Hillard said: ‘We are standing by him. He’s our foster son and that hasn’t changed. He’s still a smashing lad.’
Mrs Hillard said: ‘I’m disappointed that he hadn’t felt able to tell them the truth. While he’s under my roof I would walk on hot coals for him. My job is to look after him, care for him and support him.’
Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East, had given his backing to Mr Shahzad.
He said: ‘It would of course have been better for Ahmer to have been truthful from the start. But clearly he has been under tremendous pressure to provide for his family from an extremely young age which has undoubtedly put him in the position he is in.’
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: ‘The UK Border Agency has fully considered Mr Rana’s case and in an appeal hearing where his evidence was tested, a judge upheld our decision that he does not need the UK’s protection.’
‘The judge found elements of Mr Rana’s case were inconsistent and that he failed to show that he faces persecution in Pakistan.’
Mr Shahzad is still in Wales, and is understood to be awaiting the outcome of a second appeal.