Unpicking one tabloid story shows how the campaign against the Human Rights Act works by stoking fear, racism and jingoism.
‘Nigerian rapist can’t be deported because of EU judges’, screams the Mail headline, managing to resurrect a fearsome folk devil (the image of the big black sexual predator was a potent stereotype a generation ago), and combine it with anti-EU sentiment (although the court has nothing to do with the European Union). The first paragraph of the story describes how the 24-year-old Nigerian was due to be sent home after losing appeals over his attack on a 13-year-old girl, when the European court – including judges from Bosnia, Albania and Montenegro – said deportation would breach his rights to family and private life.
So far, the story gives the impression of mad or evil foreign judges siding with a vicious paedophile rapist. (The fact that the seven-judge panel included a highly respected British judge isn’t mentioned.) On the face of it, the man clearly deserves deportation for such a heinous offence. The court’s assessment that his deportation would be wrong because ‘he works for a council and attends church, has committed no further offences and is no longer a danger to the public’ sounds absurd.
But a careful reading of the Mail piece shows that it really isn’t that clear-cut. Later in the article, we learn that Akindoyin Akinshipe came to the UK as a 13-year-old with his two sisters to join his mother, a nurse, and committed the rape when he was only fifteen, nine years ago. Although it was still a horrible offence, with traumatic consequences for the victim, the length of time since the offence sheds a different light on the deportation issue. And what the Mail doesn’t mention – although it is set out in the European Court’s judgment – is that in the nine years since the offence, the offender has been thoroughly rehabilitated, taking GCSEs and AS level exams in the young offenders’ institution and going on to college for ‘A’ levels, then to university for undergraduate and postgraduate studies before starting work with a London local authority. The portrait of the offender which emerges from the European Court judgment is of a genuinely reformed character, someone who has transformed himself, with help, from young predator to someone with a real, positive contribution to make to society.
Or does the Mail not believe in the possibility of change? The article could have mentioned, but didn’t, that even prime minister David Cameron believes in giving people a second chance – at least that was his excuse for having ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson working for him. If Coulson deserves a second chance, why not Akinshipe? Why are Mail readers not given all the facts? Of course, ‘Rehabilitated Nigerian former juvenile rapist’ doesn’t sound as punchy as the Mail‘s headline – but such blatant distortion shouldn’t go unremarked.
AA v United Kingdom  ECHR 1345 (20 September 2011), can be viewed here
Read an IRR News story: ‘How to get rid of foreign prisoners’
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Download a copy of the IRR’s report: Foreign nationals, enemy penology and the criminal justice system (pdf file, 217kb).
Read an IRR News story: ‘Segregating foreign national prisoners’
Read an IRR News story: ‘Pressure to deport foreign national prisoners’