Several “dangerous” foreign criminals have been deported from the UK but a “significant” number of other offenders were granted a last-minute reprieve after a legal challenges, according to a Government minister.
Campaigners have been trying to halt the scheduled deportation flight to Jamaica amid ongoing concerns over the Windrush scandal.
But the Government insisted the flight was to remove “dangerous foreign criminals” from the country, including those convicted of rape and murder.
None of the offenders were eligible for the Windrush compensation scheme, according to ministers.
Chris Philp, the Home Office minister for immigration compliance, said the flight left the UK in the early hours of Wednesday morning, removing 13 “serious foreign criminals”.
But a number of Jamaican nationals due to be on board are said to have been granted a last-minute legal reprieve after the Home Office reportedly acknowledged they may be victims of modern slavery.
According to charities, lawyers had also gone to court to prevent parents set to be on the flight being separated from their children, who would be left behind in the UK.
Mr Philp said: “In the early hours of this morning, 13 serious foreign criminals were deported from the UK.
“It is disappointing that specialist immigration law firms continued to use last-minute tactics to remove a significant number of offenders from this flight.
“These individuals had every opportunity to raise the claims in the days and weeks leading up to the flight; however, a significant number of claims were not submitted until hours before the flight was due to leave – meaning murderers and rapists have been able to stay in the UK.
“Those we are attempting to remove have committed crimes which have a devastating impact on victims and their families.
“We will be working through these cases as quickly as possible. I remain committed to removing foreign criminals and anyone without a legal basis to be here to keep the British public safe – which will always be my number one priority.”
According to the Home Office, the 13 on the flight had combined sentences of more than 100 years, including three who were convicted of murder, another of manslaughter, while others had been sentenced for crimes like grooming, drug dealing, burglary and robbery.
The department is yet to provide any more detail on why others were left off the flight before it departed.
Earlier this week, Mr Philp denied that deporting foreign national offenders is discriminatory after Conservative MPs called for “activist lawyers” to be prevented from stopping flights at the last minute.
He told the Commons there is “no element of discrimination in this policy whatsoever” and that it applies to French and Spanish nationals just as much as individuals from Jamaica.
It came after the Home Office reportedly struck a deal with Jamaica not to deport those who arrived in the UK as children, although officials have not confirmed the agreement.