Vanessa Redgrave has donated £4,000 to a legal fund challenging the Home Office’s use of the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge to accommodate asylum seekers.
The actor and human rights campaigner has been an outspoken critic of the government’s policy to house asylum seekers on the barge in Portland, Dorset.
The Bibby Stockholm has been empty since 11 August when asylum seekers, who had been onboard for just four days, were evacuated after the discovery of deadly legionella bacteria.
The mayor of Portland, Carralyn Parkes, is bringing a legal challenge against the barge being used as asylum accommodation, arguing the Home Office has breached planning rules.
She set up a Crowdjustice page to fund the legal fees for the current stage of the case, with a target of £25,000. More than 900 people had already donated but Redgrave’s £4,000 enabled the fund to reach its target.
Parkes said: “I’m particularly grateful to a large donation from Dame Vanessa Redgrave, a longstanding activist and defender of refugee rights, who got us across the £25,000 line. It’s just incredible to get support from somebody who has got such a long track record of campaigning for human rights.”
A permission hearing for the case will be held in the high court on 10 October. The judge will decide whether the case is “arguable” and if it should proceed to a full judicial review.
In a letter to the Financial Times about the “appalling Bibby Stockholm”, Redgrave, 86, recounted the first time she learned about the “horrendous British prison ships and the British penal system of the 1850s” when she was taken to see the film of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and read the book at the age of eight. She compared them with the Bibby Stockholm.
“Is today’s treatment of asylum seekers, housing them in a barge, cruel? Yes. Inhuman? Yes. Illegal? I hope it will be found to be so and believe it would be under international human rights law. A fire hazard? I fear so. A virtual prison. Yes,” she wrote.
On 8 September, Parkes asked the high court to declare that the Home Office’s decision to use the Bibby Stockholm barge as asylum accommodation constitutes “development” for the purposes of planning law.
This would mean the Home Office should have applied for planning permission and, since it did not, she has claimed this potentially breached planning control and could be subject to enforcement by Dorset council.