Sunday, July 01, 2012

US journalist banned from Britain for investigating Jersey child abuse

Last week the Guardian ran a series of articles on the Channel Islands, covering both the lack of a proper response to allegations if child abuse on Jersey and the Barclay brothers' apparent attempt to dominate life on Sark. They featured our own Tom McNally in the role of a governor general paying a rare visit to a remote and troublesome archipelago.

Perhaps the most serious topic raise was the allegation that an American journalist has been banned from the UK and the Channel Islands because she was writing a book about child abuse on Jersey.

Leah McGrath Goodman tells the story on her own blog:
A couple years into my research, my trips to the UK were becoming frequent enough to justify my renting a flat for overnight stays and an office for my paperwork. Jersey has strict rules about outsiders renting property, so I arranged to meet with Jersey’s Customs and Immigration officials in July 2011 to make sure my accommodations passed muster. I was told they did. The first officer I met with, Jim Griffiths, told me not to worry and that as long as I did not intend to live in Jersey or take a job there – and my trips did not exceed the six-month time limit for visitors – I could proceed with my work. 
When he asked what I was researching, I was completely honest. He quickly excused himself and then returned with his superior. The two men proceeded to shout at me. I was told that I needed to get a long-term entry visa to conduct my work on the island. I asked if they had changed their minds due to the nature of my research. The two men would not answer the question and immediately escorted me out. 
A week later, I went home to the States to do other work and did not return to the UK until early September. I was on my way to speak at a bank conference in Salzburg, but had meetings in London and Jersey with other journalists. This time, the border check at Heathrow Airport asked me if I would go to a waiting area to answer additional questions about my stay. This had never happened to me before, but I was not very concerned and agreed. 
No one asked me any questions, though. Instead, a second border official took me to an empty room beneath the airport and simply locked the door behind me. I did not at any time consent to being imprisoned. My luggage, wallet, phone, bank cards and my identification were taken from me. If I’d been turned out on the street at that moment, I would have been utterly helpless to feed myself or prove who I was. There is no way to explain what this feels like until it happens to you, but until then I never realized the razor-thin line between feeling secure and feeling endangered. 
I asked the guards what was happening and I was handed a piece of paper that said, “You have been detained under paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act or arrested under paragraph 17 of Schedule 2 of that Act.” What did this mean? Was I being arrested? No one would say. I was fingerprinted and photographed. I asked the personnel watching me if I could call my solicitor or my consulate. “That’s what people always say,” one of the staffers said. I asked: What are my rights? A second staffer answered: “This is the border. You have no rights.” 
It got worse from there. For several hours, I waited for any concrete information about how long I would be trapped in a basement. The border guards repeatedly told me they needed time to go through my luggage and papers before deciding what questions to ask me. This struck me as an attempt to reverse-engineer a case against me. I demanded to return to the States unless there were grounds to keep me there. I was told by the border officials they could make things much more painful if I did not cooperate. 
At this point, I wanted to call my family to let then know where I was, but this, too, was denied. None of the officers would provide their full names and the paperwork they signed and occasionally handed me was indecipherable. Closed-circuit TV cameras were everywhere ... 
In all, I was there from 0645 GMT to 1900 GMT, 12 hours without food or sleep on the back of a redeye flight. Ultimately, I was denied entry to the UK and sent back to the U.S., the black stamp of death I’d always heard about, but never seen, punched in my passport. 
The two officers who interrogated me later that day asked very personal questions - some of them about where I lived, my exact addresses in New York and the Channel Islands, and some of them about the people who were closest to me. I was deeply reluctant to discuss my personal relationships or my addresses, as I got the feeling security and safety were not high on the UK Border Force’s priority list. Once the questions had ended, there was another hours-long wait, after which I was informed that I was being ousted. .... 
As I later found, the UK was not accusing me of doing anything wrong. My big mistake, apparently, had been to meet with the Jersey officials. According to a subject access request filed with the UK Border Agency after I’d returned home, Jersey’s officials flagged me well before I arrived at the border. 
I filed a second subject access request with Jersey itself, but received a form letter stating that information had been withheld for “the purposes of the prevention, detection or investigation of a crime; or the apprehension or prosecution of persons who have committed an offence.” I can only assume this refers to me – a journalist who, until last summer, held a clean record in the UK and a Tier-1 visa. .... 
At the border, UK officials encouraged me to file for another long-term visa but when I did, I was slapped with a two-year ban from entering the country in January. My legal team in London said they had never seen the UKBA act with such swift malice.
Thanks to John Hemming.

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