Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei receives apology from government after being stopped at Gatwick

Ben Keith represents Saya Ahmed Alwadaei, he comments in the Guardian on his case.

The home secretary, James Cleverly, has apologised and arranged for compensation to be paid to a human rights activist after officials unlawfully detained him at Gatwick airport on his return to the UK from a UN meeting in Switzerland.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a prominent Bahraini human rights activist and advocacy director of the London-based NGO Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, is a torture survivor who was granted asylum in the UK in 2012 after he fled persecution at the hands of Bahraini authorities.

Alwadaei was stopped by UK Border Force officials on 29 September last year after returning from Geneva, where he had addressed the UN human rights council about abuses experienced by political prisoners in Bahrain.

He was detained for two and a half hours at Gatwick and said he was not provided with a sufficient explanation for why he was stopped.

His lawyers started a legal challenge against the home secretary for unlawful detention at the airport that the government settled with a compensation payout of hundreds of pounds and an apology in writing from Cleverly.

A letter from government lawyers in response to the legal claim states: “Following your client’s complaint, the SSHD [secretary of state for the home department] has reviewed his records and accepts that your client was unlawfully detained. The SSHD apologises to your client for the actions of his officials and offers … compensation for the distress caused.

“Your client’s immigration records have been checked and the records updated to make sure this does not happen in the future. The secretary of state is unable to discern what powers were purported to be exercised.”

The government letter was written in response to the legal challenge and addressed to Alwadaei’s lawyer, Ben Keith of 5SAH Chambers, London, who filed a pre-action protocol letter to challenge Gatwick detention.

Keith argued that Border Force officials were unlawfully exercising powers to stop, detain and arrest an individual without suspicion under immigration rules.

He asked the Home Office to update Alwadaei’s record in a way that removed any possible flag that would trigger future automatic checks at the border.

The government letter states: “The secretary of state for the home department of course is unable to provide any assurance that your client will never be stopped and questioned by Border Force officers in the normal course of their duties, as it would be inappropriate for him to do so.”

Alwadaei said: “Exposing human rights violations of the Bahraini regime has often come at a personal cost and reprisals against me and my family back in Bahrain. To be detained upon my return to the UK was very distressing and came soon after the Bahraini regime pledged to invest £1bn into the UK economy and was rewarded by the UK government removing it from its human rights priority list.”

He said he has been stopped at least eight times at UK airports. “The UK government must abide by its laws, ensuring that nobody is unjustly detained, particularly those advocating for human rights.”

Keith said: “It is concerning that my client has been detained unlawfully. No reasons have been put forward by the Home Office. So we are left to speculate as to whether he was stopped because of an unpublished watch list, an Interpol notice or simple incompetence.”

Last year, some MPs raised concerns after Bahrain was dropped from the Foreign Office list of “human rights priority countries” just days after the kingdom’s pledge to invest £1bn in Britain.

In May 2023 a secret Home Office policy to detain people at airports who have the right to live in the UK and who have NHS debts was found to be unlawful.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Border Force’s number one priority is to keep our borders safe and secure, and we will never compromise on this. Officers may stop any arriving passenger for the purposes of further examination where they are not immediately satisfied that they qualify for entry.”

This is a high-profile case and featured in the Independent here & BBC News here.

Ben Keith is a leading barrister specialising in cross-border and international cases. He deals with all aspects of Extradition, Human Rights, Mutual Legal Assistance, Interpol, Financial crime and International Law including sanctions. He represents governments, political and military leaders, High Net Worth individuals, human rights defenders and business leaders in the most sensitive cases.

He has extensive experience of appellate proceedings before the Administrative and Divisional Courts, Civil and Criminal Divisions of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court as well as applications and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and United Nations.