Brighton doctor’s family awarded £130k for terrifying ordeal after Home Office failures

Posted On 08 Jul 2014 at 6:22 pm

The Home Office must pay the family of a Brighton doctor £130,000 after they suffered a terrifying ordeal as a result of official failings.

The parliamentary ombudsman has also ordered the Home Office to apologise to the family of Alison Hewitt.

Dr Hewitt suffered a sustained campaign of stalking and harassment after ending her relationship with Canadian bank auditor Al Amin Dhalla.

He tried to burn down her mother and stepfather’s home before Sussex Police tracked him down to the hospital where Dr Hewitt worked.

Officers found weapons including a loaded crossbow and a big knife in his hire car along with a doctor’s white coat and stethoscope. Dhalla, 44, also had a van with a cage fitted in the back.

His campaign of terror was possible, the ombudsman said, because the Home Office had made serious mistakes.

Al Amin Dhalla

Al Amin Dhalla

Dr Hewitt’s mother Pamela found evidence of Dhalla’s violent past and alerted the Home Office but officials failed to act.

The ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, published an anonymised report yesterday called Home Office failures put a family in danger.

Injustice

She said: “I am laying this report before Parliament … because the story it tells of maladministration and injustice is so important.

“It matters for the public and for officials working to protect the public from harm.

“The complaint we investigated was about the Home Office’s response to a mother’s fears in November 2010.

“She had discovered that a Canadian man living with her daughter had lied about his overseas criminal past when he came to the UK to live and work.

“She feared that the man would harm her daughter and herself. She believed that the UK’s immigration laws, enforced by the Home Office, would help keep them safe.

“She was right to be afraid and the Home Office failed to help her.

“Our work shows the serious mistakes made by the Home Office before and after the man’s arrest for crimes against the family.

“It shows how maladministration by the Home Office prevented them from helping the family in time and then led the Home Office to deny responsibility for the effect of their mistakes.

Terrifying

“In response to our investigation, the Home Office are embracing the opportunity to put things right, as far as they can, and to learn from this family’s terrifying experience.

“Our recommendations for avoiding a repeat of what happened to (Mrs Hewitt) and her family rely on the integrity of the work that the Home Office have agreed to carry out in response to this investigation.

“We hope that Parliament will take whatever action it feels appropriate in order to hold the Home Office to account for the failures we have identified and to monitor progress against our recommendations.

“On the evening of 10 November 2010 (Mrs Hewitt) emailed the Home Office to alert them to (Dhalla’s) re-entry to the UK on 13 November 2010 after a holiday abroad.

“(Dhalla) was a foreign national who had a visa that allowed him to live and work in the UK and he was in a relationship with (Mrs Hewitt’s) daughter.

“(Mrs Hewitt) and her family had become suspicious of (Dhalla) because of his behaviour and the inconsistencies in what he told them about himself.

“(Mrs Hewitt) engaged a private investigator to look into (Dhalla’s) background.

“The private investigator telephoned (Mrs Hewitt) on 10 November 2010 to inform her that (Dhalla) had a criminal record for violent offences committed overseas and very strongly advised her to pass this information to the UK authorities.

Violence

“That evening (Mrs Hewitt) emailed the Home Office with this information, explaining that (Dhalla) had used three aliases and had an extensive criminal record for violence and use of weapons in Canada.

“She informed them that (Mrs Hewitt’s) flight was due to arrive at 8.25am on 13 November 2010 and gave them the flight number.

“The Home Office took no action against (Dhalla) following (Mrs Hewitt’s) email and he passed through border control without being stopped.

“The Home Office took no follow up action to check whether (Dhalla) had entered the UK or to alert the relevant authorities to (Dhalla’s) entry into the UK.

“(Mrs Hewitt) contacted the Home Office on two further occasions during November 2010 about her continuing concern that (Dhalla) had re-entered the UK.

“The Home Office still took no action.

“By December 2010 (Dhalla) had embarked on a prolonged and escalating campaign against (Mrs Hewitt’s) daughter and her family.

“In April 2011 the police arrested (Dhalla) after his harassment of the family had reached the point of setting fire to (Mrs Hewitt’s) home.

Convicted

“(Dhalla) was convicted of several offences including arson, theft, harassment, perverting the course of justice, having an offensive weapon and criminal damage.

“He was given a minimum sentence of six years.”

In response to the ombudsman’s findings, the Home Office is to carry out and publish the outcomes of three separate reviews of their approach to

  • checking visa applicants’ statements about their overseas criminal records and good character
  • handling allegations including their use of and access to the watchlist
  • dealing with correspondence

Dame Julie said: “They are to publish a progress report on the reviews within a year.

“They are to show the family that they have a grip on the next stages in their dealings with (Dhalla), including telling the family how they are monitoring his detention in the UK.

“They are to apologise to the family and pay them £120,000 for the effect on the six family members of their mistakes and £10,184 towards their expenses.”

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