Priti Patel loses High Court case after her officials tried to whisk Nigerian immigrant out of the UK before he could give inquest evidence over his friend’s detention centre death
- Priti Patel has lost High Court case after she tried deporting Nigerian man
- Two judges ruled her attempt to kick out key witness to death was unlawful
- Oscar Lucky Okwurime, from Nigeria, was found dead in immigration centre
- His friend Ahmed Lawal blocked Home Office bid to deport him before inquest
- Lawyers have now slammed Ms Patel’s ‘cavalier attitude’ to removals
Priti Patel today lost a High Court case after her officials tried to kick a Nigerian immigrant out of Britain before he could give inquest evidence over his friend’s death at a detention centre.
In a landmark court ruling, two judges ruled that the Home Secretary’s attempt to deport Ahmed Lawal, 34, before he could give evidence at an inquest was unlawful and that the process was ‘legally deficient’.
They told the Immigration Court that Ms Patel should be held accountable for failures in ensuring that deaths in immigration detention centres across the country are properly investigated.
Three of Ms Patel’s detention policies breached human rights rules and she could not frustrate or undermine inquiries into these deaths, the judges added.
The ruling relates to Mr Lawal and Oscar Lucky Okwurime, both from Nigeria, who were in Harmondsworth immigration removal centre when Okwurime was found dead in his cell in September 2019.
Priti Patel has lost a High Court case after her officials tried to whisky a Nigerian immigrant out of the UK before he could give inquest evidence over his friend’s death at a detention centre
The Home Office tried to deport Mr Lawal, a key witness, just five days after the death – and before he could provide any evidence.
Mr Lawal had been detained in the same wing at at the time of his death. He and a number of other detainees were able to instruct lawyers shortly before the flight and deter his removal on the basis that they were key witnesses.
A month later, the coroner for west London informed the Home Office and Mr Lawal that he was an ‘important witness of fact’ as the ‘only live witness who can speak to certain parts of the evidence, particularly the presentation of the deceased in the days before his unfortunate death’.
Mr Lawal gave evidence in person at the inquest in November 2020, which found that Okwurime had died unnaturally as a result of neglect following a subarachnoid haemorrhage, often caused by hypertension.
The jury found that his blood pressure reading on August 22, 2019 showed hypertension and ruled that neglect had contributed to his death due to multiple failures to adhere to healthcare policy.
Mr Lawal’s legal challenge crucially focused on whether the Home Secretary can remove a potential witness to a death in custody before it is clear whether they will be needed as an inquest witness.
Ahmed Lawal, 34, had been detained in the same wing at at the time of his death
The judges found that Ms Patel’s decision to remove Lawal to Nigeria was unlawful as she had failed to take reasonable steps to secure his evidence relating to Okwurime’s death before starting removal proceedings.
A replacement policy in August 2020 was also found to be unlawful as it failed to identify and take steps to secure the evidence of those who may have relevant information about a death in detention.
Lawal’s solicitor, Jamie Bell of Duncan Lewis solicitors, said: ‘This case demonstrates the cavalier attitude of the Home Office when enforcing removals.
‘Despite a tragic death within a detention centre, the Home Secretary did not hesitate to maintain her plan to remove potential witnesses by charter flight, ignoring anyone who wished to come forward to give evidence.’
There have been 28 deaths recorded in immigration detention since 2010.
Emma Ginn, director of Medical Justice, said the Home Office appeared to want to ‘sweep’ Mr Okwurime’s death ‘under the carpet’ by trying its best to remove witnesses from the UK before they could give evidence, telling the Independent: ‘It looks like the Home Office is not learning lessons.’
MailOnline has contacted the Home Office for comment.