Questions over how sex offender suspected of chemical attack was granted asylum

Questions over how sex offender suspected of chemical attack was granted asylum

Questions are being asked about how a sex offender on the run after being suspected of carrying out a chemical attack was granted asylum in the UK despite his conviction.

Police are hunting for Abdul Shokoor Ezedi after a girl and her mother were left with potentially life-changing injuries in the wake of the incident in London on Wednesday. Officers believe he had been living in Newcastle.

The 35-year-old, who it is believed to be from Afghanistan, reportedly arrived in the UK in 2016 by travelling in a lorry.

But is it understood his asylum claims were twice rejected by the Home Office.

Ezedi avoided jail when he pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault and exposure, instead being handed a suspended sentence at Newcastle Crown Court on January 9 2018, the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed.

He is then understood to have challenged the Home Office’s decision to refuse him asylum by successfully lodging an appeal with the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), which is believed to have been granted by a judge in 2021 or 2022.

Ezedi was apparently permitted to stay in the country after a priest confirmed he had converted to Christianity and was “wholly committed” to his new religion, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Chemical attack suspect
Abdul Ezedi, the suspect in the Clapham alkaline substance attack (Met Police/PA)

The Home Office can apply to the Upper Tribunal to appeal against such rulings. But it is so far unclear whether the department did apply to appeal and was unsuccessful in this case.

Jacqueline McKenzie, partner and head of immigration and asylum law at law firm Leigh Day, said someone’s criminal past can be relevant but that if they are believed not to pose an ongoing threat to security they might be granted asylum.

She told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “The Secretary of State can also look at crimes committed outside of the UK and inside of the UK, if the person poses a threat to society.

“And it seems clear – and we don’t know enough, but it seems clear – that whoever made the decision to grant this man asylum felt that he didn’t pose an ongoing threat to security and that may have been based on probation reports, all sorts of things, or expert evidence etc. So it is very, very difficult, because we just don’t have enough information.”

It is not yet known which Christian denomination the person who reportedly assisted Ezedi was from.

The Church of England said it was not currently aware of any links to its churches.

A spokesperson said: “This is clearly a shocking and distressing incident, and our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by it.

“It is the role of the Home Office, and not the Church, to vet asylum seekers and judge the merits of their individual cases.”

According to Church of England guidance, clergy can “act as their support, and help with things they cannot do” if someone’s asylum claim is refused.

Conversion to Christianity after a previous refusal can be the basis of a fresh claim, the guidance said.

It states: “Convincing evidence will be required, which could include: testimony from a church leader, other testimony confirming their faith or conversion, evidence of persecution of Christians / Christian converts in their home country.”

Ms McKenzie said she has dealt with cases where people have been “absolutely genuine” about their conversion to Christianity.

But former immigration minister Robert Jenrick repeated his claim that the asylum system is “broken”.

He told the Today programme: “I’m afraid we do see, regularly, cases of people making spurious claims to have converted to Christianity, aided and abetted by often well-meaning but naive vicars and priests, and this is just an example of how broken the system is.”

Ms McKenzie also said the timing of Ezedi’s claim “is pretty important”, due to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021.

She said: “We know the Taliban came to power, we know that they’re very serious about their blasphemy laws, and that the death penalty is applicable for people who convert from Islam to Christianity or other religions.

“And this man, if he was able to convince the Secretary of State that his conversion was genuine, would have been offered protection because he would possibly face persecution back in Afghanistan under the Taliban.”

The Home Office said it would be inappropriate to comment on a suspect’s immigration status during a live police investigation.