Mr Sufi, 24, has at least 17 convictions for crimes including burglary, fraud and indecent exposure since he entered the UK illegally eight years ago.
But an attempt by the Home Office to send him back to his homeland of Somalia has been thwarted by judges in Strasbourg, who ruled last week that he would face the risk of inhumane treatment if he was returned. He is now living freely in London.
The ruling in the key test case means that more than 200 further Somalis appealing against deportation, most of them convicted criminals, will be able to remain in Britain.
Critics say the ruling illustrates how human rights legislation is being exploited by lawyers and foreign criminals to make a mockery of British justice.
Sufi’s case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights by the AIRE Centre, a legal advice body which has received funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the European Commission. Because the Home Office lost, both sides’ costs will be paid by British taxpayers.
Judges considered Sufi’s case together with that of another Somali criminal fighting deportation, Abdiaziz Elmi, a 42-year-old heroin addict with multiple convictions for drug-dealing and robbery who lives with his family in Camberley, Surrey.
The court ruled unanimously that sending either man back to his homeland would breach Article 3 of the European Human Rights Convention, which bans “inhuman or degrading treatment”.
The judges rejected the Home Office’s argument that the men could live safely in parts of Somalia. They ruled that the country as a whole was too dangerous to send the men home to.
“The court reiterated that the prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is absolute,” they said. “Consequently, the applicants’ behaviour, however undesirable, could not be taken into account.”
The judgment described it as the “lead case” against the UK, meaning the outcome will set a precedent for 214 pending cases brought by Somalis attempting to avoid deportation, around two-thirds of them criminals.
Sufi arrived in Britain as a 16 year-old in 2003, having paid a trafficking agent for false identity documents to get on a flight from Somalia via Dubai. He sought asylum, claiming that he belonged to a clan persecuted by militia, but his claim was rejected and a tribunal found his account was “not credible”.
Nevertheless, he was placed in the care of social services until he turned 18. In that year, 2005, he was convicted of burglary and dishonestly obtaining goods by deception, and ordered to spent 18 months in Feltham Young Offenders Institution. He later committed further crimes, including indecent exposure, theft and making threats to kill, culminating in a 2009 sentence of 32 months for five counts of burglary.
Following his latest release from an immigration detention centre, Sufi is back on the streets of west London, drifting between bail hostels and a friend’s flat.
Tracked down by The Sunday Telegraph, he said he was not even aware of the European court’s decision in his case, or its implications.
He apologised for his criminal record and said he wanted to start a new, law-abiding life as a bus driver or security guard.
Speaking through an interpreter, he said: “I have not spoken to the lawyer. They got me out of the detention centre so I am very pleased, but I am not celebrating as I still do not have money to eat.”
“I am seeing a psychiatrist for my nightmares and I do not sleep at night. It makes it difficult for me to be normal.
“I want to contribute to society, not to be costing the country money, but I have been unable to get education and skills here because of my status.
“I am full of shame for having to beg or borrow to live and I do not want to be a burden to anybody.
“I understand why people are angry that I committed crimes, I see their point of view and I am sorry. I did not come to Britain to commit crimes.”
His father, a successful clothing shop owner and farmer, was persecuted by the Hawiye militia because his family were from a minority clan, Shanshi.
“Everything we had was stolen or destroyed, and my family was killed,” he said. “My mother contacted relatives and we scraped together enough money to pay people to get me out of the country to be safe.
“I did not choose Britain, it was just where they took me. Later I heard my mother managed to get to Sweden but she died there.”
The court’s judgment said that while it was possible for well-connected individuals to live safely in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, anyone else being returned would face serious harm.
Mahdi Aadam, director of the Pan African Relief and Development Organisation, a refugee support charity based in west London, said: “Mogadishu is worse now than ever.”
He said the rise of the country’s al-Shabaab Islamist insurgency had made the country “deadly”, but added: “It is a civil war, not a religious conflict.”
Mr Sufi said his 2007 conviction for indecent exposure followed an argument with a female warder over laundry at the West Drayton immigrant detention centre in west London.