A former prisoner turned advocate for penal reform who has two British children is facing imminent removal from the UK in what campaigners have said highlights the government’s “robotic approach to detention and deportation”.
Hilary Ineomo-Marcus, 34, a Nigerian who arrived in the UK aged 10 and has lived in London ever since, was granted leave to remain in the early 2000s. But immigration officials revoked his status after he served a 15-month prison sentence in 2013 for a tax offence.
During his time in prison, the Nigerian national worked as a presenter on National Prison Radio, where he was commended as being the “best prisoner-producer” to have worked on the station.
Since his release, he has presented a number of programmes about prison and rehabilitation on national radio and volunteered for charities that seek to deter young people from offending.
Alongside his voluntary work, the 34-year-old is primary carer for his two sons, aged three and one, while his wife Stacey, who he married five years ago, works in the civil service.
But Mr Ineomo-Marcus was served a deportation notice on Monday while signing on with the Home Office. He was given no forewarning and had to wait at the reporting centre for three hours with his baby son before his wife was called and told to collect her child so Mr Ineomo-Marcus could be taken to a removal centre.
Speaking from Harmondsworth detention centre on Thursday, Mr Ineomo-Marcus said the idea of being flown back to Nigeria was “terrifying”, adding: “This is a country that I have no ties to – and the Home Office hasn’t objected to this.
“I’m not able to sleep because this is hanging over me. The prospect that they could walk in and grab me and put me on a plane before I can say goodbye to anyone – not even my children – terrifies me.
“I am a product of British education and British culture. I’ve played in football teams, made friends, built networks within the community. I am quintessentially, de-facto British – apart from the fact that I just don’t have a little red book for a passport.”
Mr Ineomo-Marcus described the crime he committed in 2013 as a “lapse of judgement”, saying he had invested £4,500 into a business set up his cousin, which – unbeknownst to him – was claiming back taxes it was not entitled to.
“A crime is a crime – I am in no way trying to justify it. I did my time. But this is a form of double punishment. Prison did what it is supposed to do,” he continued. “I haven’t reoffended, I’ve given back to society. The probation service itself has assessed me as being low-risk of re-offending.”
Phil Maguire, chief executive of the Prison Radio Association, where Mr Ineomo-Marcus worked during his time in HMP Brixton, described the 34-year-old as a “gifted and thoughtful communicator” who had “positively influenced the lives of many thousands of prisoners” through his work.
“The quality of Hilary’s work was quite remarkable, as was his work ethic. Hilary proved to be the very best prisoner-producer we have ever had the pleasure of working alongside,” Mr Maguire added.
Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said Mr Ineomo-Marcus’s case highlighted “all that is wrong with the Home Office’s robotic approach to detention and deportation”.
She added: “He’s been here since childhood, has repaid his debt to society and is by any measure ‘more British than foreign’.
“Detaining and deporting him to a country that is not his home is manifestly unjust – it’s time for discretion, common sense and compassion to be reintroduced to our system.”
Mr Ineomo-Marcus’s wife Stacey, who has had to take time off work since Monday in order to care for her children in her husband’s absence, said the situation was “extremely draining”.
The 31-year-old continued: “The kids are coming home and looking for daddy’s shoes. I say daddy’s going to come back. He’s just gone to do something. No one seems to care that he has children he needs to look after.
“It’s as though the government wants me to be a single parent and on benefits. I won’t be able to cope if he goes. I won’t be able to work. He does everything with the children – takes them to the library, does activates with them.
“He has worked all his life and he’s made one mistake. They’ve punished him for it once and they’re punishing him again. British-born people who have done much worse than him are able to live their life with their family after they’ve done their time.
“He has no home in Nigeria – where do they expect him to go?”
Speaking about the prospect of his removal, Mr Ineomo-Marcus said he feared for the future of his children being left in a fatherless household.
“They are used to waking up in the morning. I take them swimming every Saturday. I pick the eldest up from school and they’re with me until mummy gets home. I put them to bed,” he said.
“My wife is going to have to stop working because it would be impossible to make any alternative childcare arrangements. Why should she have to do this when I am well and alive?
“There’s a massive crisis in our society right now where young boys are stabbing each other. A lot of them are young black boys from disadvantaged backgrounds. And when I’ve had conversations with young offenders in prisons there is a common theme and that is an absence of a father figure in their lives.
“That is worrying for me, because these boys are potentially my sons. That scares me.”
The Home Office said they did not comment on individual cases, but said: “Foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by committing crimes in the UK should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them.”