Mary and her five children have won a precedent-setting, six figure compensation award from the Home Office for abuse and injuries sustained during deportation to Uganda in 2006. Mary, a rape survivor, was supported throughout by Women Against Rape (WAR) who found legal representation to bring this case, through Leigh Day & Co. solicitors.
During the deportation, Mary and her children, the youngest of whom was just nine months old, suffered humiliating and degrading assaults that included Mary being punched and having pressure applied to her throat; being forcibly handcuffed with excessive force; threatened her teeth would be broken; being forced to keep her head between her thighs for half the flight.
Mary’s teenage daughter was sexually assaulted by a female escort who tore her shirt and groped her breasts. The younger children were punched and dragged onto the plane with excessive force. The baby was kept from his mother during the flight and screamed so loudly that other passengers on the plane challenged the escorts to take Mary’s handcuffs off and give the baby to her. All their belongings were left in the UK so the whole family arrived in Uganda with just the clothes they were wearing.
Two months after they arrived back in Uganda, Mary was kidnapped and tortured by security agents. She escaped from the boot of the car whilst she was being taken to be killed, and eventually managed to get back to Britain. Tragically she had no choice but to leave her children behind. The multitude of wounds from the torture she suffered were still visible on her body when she arrived.
With WAR’s help, Mary applied again for asylum but during the two long years we were fighting the case, only her son who had a British passport, was able to join her from Uganda. The other four children were left destitute. After receiving a heart-breaking letter from Mary's daughter saying how she had been raped whilst trying to raise money to support her brothers, we issued an urgent appeal for help. Sister Joan Faber, a nun who volunteers with WAR, organised for her sister community in Uganda to help. Together, we fundraised to pay a sum each month to ensure the children survived. Eventually, in October 2007, Mary won her asylum claim, and in March 2008 the children joined her.
When I got deported I thought I was finished but WAR didn’t drop me. Together with the All African Women’s Group, they kept me going. This money cannot even begin to compensate for what we have suffered. But I know that for a government with no heart, money is the only language they understand. Making them pay, I hope is one way to stop further violence.
A spokeswoman for WAR says
Solicitor General Vera Baird and other women ministers profess concern about rape calling it: “a devastating crime that traumatises victims and shatters lives”. Yet we hear no outcry from them when rape survivors like Mary, are brutally beaten and sent back to a country where they suffer further torture. With a conviction rate of 6% of reported rapes, we know that most rape survivors don’t get protection; but from the deafening silence around this case we can only conclude that rape and violence are not considered crimes when committed against women with the wrong passport.
Frances Swaine, from Leigh Day & Co, who with solicitor Merry Varney brought the case, commented
It is time that the Home Office realised that contracting out security services to wholly inappropriate companies has to stop. This family was treated in a way that failed to recognise their humanity and was not of a standard that I would like to feel is possible in Britain.
Legal Action for Women which advised WAR and Mary commented that the case raised serious questions of accountability.
Will the guards who beat Mary and her children be prosecuted? Will the officials who decided that it was safe for Mary to be sent back be reprimanded or disciplined for his catastrophically wrong decision? If not, why not? Most of the thousands of people assaulted during removal don’t make it back to the UK and the abuse therefore never comes to light. This violence will not stop until those responsible are held to account.