Tony Bonnici and Craig Woodhouse, London Evening Standard, August 19, 2011
More than 150 people arrested over the looting and arson attacks that started in London and swept England were born abroad, exclusive figures show.
Now the Government has announced plans for rioters without UK citizenship to be deported “at the earliest opportunity”. The move re-ignited the Coalition row over tough sentences being imposed on children and adults who took part in the disorder.
Immigration Minister Damian Green told the Standard: “We strongly believe that foreign national lawbreakers should be removed from the UK at the earliest opportunity.
“We also have the power to cancel the visas of foreign nationals found guilty of criminal activity, and this is something we will be looking to do when these cases arise.
“Last week saw unprecedented criminality on our streets and the courts are now dispensing firm justice to ensure those responsible are punished.”
Among those accused of taking part in the disorder is a failed asylum seeker alleged to have looted clothes and cash from the Walthamstow branch of department store BHS.
Algerian national Abderazak Boussag, 23, was arrested after police found the fingerprint of his teenage co-defendant at the store and raided his home in Leyton.
Offenders can use the Human Rights Act to appeal against deportation on grounds that they are entitled to a family life or to avoid the risk of torture. Many of these appeals succeed.
The latest hard-line response to the riots was criticised by some Liberal Democrat backbenchers.
Bradford East MP David Ward accused Mr Green of headline-grabbing and said each case should be dealt with on its merits.
“This almost seems to be a competition to see who can come out with the most macho response,” Mr Ward said. “To have a blanket policy for all is just nonsense.”
Tom Brake, Lib-Dem home affairs spokesman, said the Government would “need to exercise caution”, particularly in cases where foreigners have families established in the UK.
Lib-Dems have attacked David Cameron’s calls for “zero tolerance” to street crime and his backing for long sentences being handed down by the courts.
Plans to strip away benefits have also been described as “bonkers” by Wells MP Tessa Munt, while there has also been opposition to removing council homes from troublemakers.
The UK Border Agency has revealed that about 150 of the 2,800 arrested over rioting so far are thought to be foreign nationals, though it stressed these were only preliminary figures.
Under immigration rules, criminals from outside Europe are automatically put forward for deportation if they are sentenced to 12 months in prison.
The same applies to Europeans given a 12-month sentence for drugs, violent or sexual crimes, or 24 months for other crimes.
But courts can recommend deportation in other instances, and the UK Border Agency is able to revoke visas for anyone found guilty of criminal activity. Research today showed courts are handing down prison sentences that are on average 25 per cent longer than normal.
Analysis of court records by the Guardian also suggested the majority of those who have been through the justice system so far live in poor neighbourhoods, with 41 per cent of suspects living in one of the top 10 most deprived places in the country.
Figures were set to show the prison population has risen by 700 in the past week to hit record levels, raising fears jails will soon be full.
Prison Governors Association president Eoin McLennan-Murray said there were 1,500 empty prison places available, but the Ministry of Justice is drawing up contingency plans in case space runs out.
Figures released on Wednesday showed that so far 1,297 people had appeared in court charged with offences linked to the riots, with two- thirds remanded in custody.