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Court papers reveal scale of chemical attack suspect Abdul Ezedi’s asylum bid

Abdul Ezedi was granted asylum by a judge who accepted he was a Christian convert despite concerns the sex offender was a liar, court records show.

A raft of previously confidential documents disclose for the first time how the man police believe carried out a harrowing chemical attack earlier this year had been allowed to stay in the UK even though he had a criminal conviction.

The rarely-made-public immigration tribunal court papers, obtained by media organisations after legal representations, laid bare the lengths the Afghan national went to evidence his religious conversion from Islam, and how some of those who supported him during the process were aware of his crimes, with him even signing an agreement to be effectively escorted during church services as a result.

Clapham Common incident
Police launched a major manhunt for Abdul Ezedi earlier this year (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Meanwhile never-before-seen pictures also released capture the moment he was baptised and expose how he handed out church leaflets to passers-by.

Ezedi’s body was pulled from the River Thames last month amid a major man hunt launched after he was suspected of dousing his ex-girlfriend with alkali when he pounced on her and her children, aged eight and three, in Clapham, south London, in January.

It later emerged he previously avoided jail as the case sparked widespread debate about the role religion plays in determining asylum claims, while also raising questions over how the Government and courts scrutinise the validity of evidence presented in applications.

In a ruling dated November 10 2020, Judge WK O’Hanlon, sitting in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), said: “Having considered all of the evidence before me in the round, notwithstanding my concerns as to the honesty of the appellant (Ezedi) in relation to certain aspects of his account, I find that the appellant had been consistent in his evidence with regard to his conversion to Christianity.”

“Having taken all of these factors into account, I am satisfied … the appellant has undergone a genuine conversion from his former Muslim faith to Christianity and that accordingly … would be at risk in the event of return to Afghanistan. I therefore allow his asylum appeal,” he added.

The documents were released on Tuesday after the court granted submissions from the PA news agency alongside the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Times, the BBC and the Independent, who argued disclosure was in the public interest.

Ezedi arrived in the UK on January 8 2016 but his initial asylum claim was refused by the Home Office, with an appeal later rejected by the courts the following year, according to the documents.

He was handed a suspended sentence at Newcastle Crown Court on January 9 2018 after pleading guilty to charges of sexual assault and exposure, instead being placed on the sex offender register for 10 years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

Just over a year later, on March 19 2019, he challenged the decision again by lodging an appeal with the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), arguing he feared persecution because of his religion.

The papers confirm his claim was granted after a hearing in Newcastle on October 28 2020.

Lawyers representing Ezedi argued he had “converted from Shia Islam to Christianity (Baptist).

“The punishment for this in sharia law which is practised in Afghanistan would be execution”, the documents said, adding that he “enjoys practising and sharing his Christian faith with others”.

But, during proceedings, the Home Office’s legal team said the Government department did not accept Ezedi’s conversion was “genuine and long-lasting”.

Ezedi was “prepared to deceive” and “use religion for his own ends” and had been unable to demonstrate a “clear understanding of Christian principles and beliefs”, according to court records of the Home Office’s submissions.

The judge found the “most compelling evidence” was from Reverend Roy Merrin, former ministry team leader at Grange Road Baptist Church in Jarrow, who said he had known Ezedi for four years and that he attended church regularly.

Abdul Ezedi court case
Abdul Ezedi (left) handing out church leaflets in the street (Judicial Office/PA)

The Reverend told the court he was “aware of people who fraudulently claimed conversion with ulterior motives in relation to asylum but did not consider the appellant (Ezedi) was such a person”, the court documents said, adding: “This showed he (the Reverend) was alive to the possibilities of being used by asylum claimants but did not consider that appellant was such a case.”

The Mail reported former Reverend Merrin said: “I’m sorry I can’t help you”, when he was contacted after the documents were released.

The judge said Ezedi had “not been honest in several aspects of his account” and described problems which caused him to “doubt” his “credibility”, according to the documents.

But the judge later stressed the courts were “not unfamiliar with the difficulties created by appellants who have not been truthful but who may still be at risk”, adding: “We must be very careful not to dismiss an appeal just because an appellant has told lies.”

“Although I found that the appellant had not been honest in relation to other aspects of his claim … because that is the case it did not automatically mean that his evidence in relation to his claimed conversion could not be believed,” he added.

The details disclosed in the court records could raise fresh questions over the need for tougher checks by churches and the Government to stop migrants changing religions and claiming they are at risk of religious persecution if returned to their home country so they can stay in the UK, amid accusations baptisms were taking place on an “industrial-scale” to assist asylum applications.

Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury said there was “no evidence” to support claims the Church of England was “subverting the asylum system” by allowing spurious conversions to Christianity.