A series of urgent emails from the heart of the Scottish Government on the day of a Home Office immigration raid in Glasgow’s Pollokshields have laid bare the growing tensions between the two administrations, it has been claimed.
The emails from Scottish Government ministers and officials to the Home Office and Police Scotland – released to The Ferret under freedom of information legislation – relate to the unsuccessful immigration raid on two Indian men in Kenmure Street, in the First Minister’s Glasgow constituency.
During the incident activists blocked a Home Office enforcement van while locals chanted: “These are our neighbours. Let them go”. Hundreds of protesters gathered at the scene over the course of an eight-hour, heavily policed, stand-off.
Police Scotland eventually called off the raid later that day on public health grounds and the two men were released from the Home Office van where they had been held.
The Scottish Government emails from 13 May suggest Home Secretary Priti Patel did not respond to urgent requests for a meeting from the then-Cabinet Secretary of Justice, Humza Yousaf.
They also reveal concerns about the raid came from the top, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Yousaf meeting to discuss the situation before noon – less than 2.5 hours after the raid had started.
An email titled “Urgent – Immigration raid in Pollokshield” – said their discussion followed “lots of emails on this subject in the last 10 minutes and it is being reported on Twitter”.
A series of emails from the ministers’ offices – also marked as urgent – were then sent to key Scottish Government officials requesting background from Police Scotland, and a meeting with the Chief Constable of Police Scotland “or his deputies”.
Another email from the First Minister’s office asked Yousaf’s office to set up a meeting with Home Secretary, Priti Patel. An email from officials noted Sturgeon “has various worries about this mostly the issue of targeting Muslims on Eid but importantly that there now appears to be a significant gathering in the area during a Covid pandemic”.
At that time Pollokshields, an area in the southside of Glasgow, was experiencing an outbreak of the Delta variant.
Though Yousaf appears to have spoken to Police Scotland by 1pm, according to the redacted emails, his officials report they are still “chasing” Patel’s private office and have started contacting Home Office staff at Glasgow’s Brand Street HQ. A meeting is secured with the Scottish director of immigration enforcement with Yousaf expressing disappointment that no minister was available.
Finally, Sturgeon’s office manages to set up a meeting with Kevin Foster MP, minister for immigration, which is originally planned for 3pm but pushed back to 3.45pm.
By this time a police “gold command”, which determines police strategy in “critical incidents”, has indicated it may step in to stop the raid.
An email from a civil servant working for the policing division of the Scottish Government’s community safety team reads: “Police Scotland are convening a further Gold group meeting at 4pm and at that point – on the basis of the risk of public safety – are likely to direct the operation is abandoned on those grounds.”
Lawyer Aamer Anwar, who was at Kenmure Street to represent the men, said he thought the Scottish Government had responded “very well” to the developing crisis.
He said: “That was a tremendous day and it was uplifting to see a way of operating with humanity. But it also shows the conflict between the Scottish Government and Tory Government in Westminster.
“To put it bluntly the Home Office got an absolute kicking and the response shows the way in which they stand in conflict with Scotland on this issue. People had had enough.
“But I also know that the Scottish Government was frustrated by the lack of willingness of Home Office officials to engage with them.”
The men have not been detained, he said, adding “due legal process continues”. They do not currently have leave to remain in the UK.
Anwar also warned that the threat of immigration enforcement raids was ongoing and said questions should be asked about Police Scotland’s role.
“The reality is that many other dawn raids happen unnoticed and unmarked,” he said. “Often immigration authorities call on the police for assistance and that’s something we need look at.”
A spokesperson for the No Evictions Network, which was credited for being instrumental in stopping the raid, said it welcomed the fast response from the Scottish Government. But it claimed the correspondence showed Scottish ministers did not have the power “to decide what policy is needed in society”.
They added: “We know from history it is the power of people and society that shape the government and government policies, not other way around.
“We are fortunate enough to have the community using their democratic rights to say no to things that undermine human rights and we will carry on exercising our rights to peacefully raise our voices and stop dawn raids.”
Under UK Immigration policy, which the Home Office is responsible for enforcing, all those who do not have leave to remain can be deported.
The Home Office said in May it would deport to the two men, Lakhvir Singh and Sumit Sehdev, who have lived in Scotland for more than 10 years.
A Home Office spokesperson said the immigration raid had followed protocol, with Police Scotland informed in advance.
They added: “The UK Government is tackling illegal immigration and the harm it causes, often to the most vulnerable people by removing those with no right to be in the UK.
“The operation in Glasgow was conducted in relation to suspected immigration offences and the two Indian nationals complied with officers at all times. We engaged extensively with the Scottish government during the incident, including a Ministerial call with the First Minister and also via senior officials.
“The UK Government continues to tackle illegal migration in all its forms and our New Plan for Immigration will speed up the removal of those who have entered the UK illegally.”
Timeline: How the Kenmure Street raid unfolded
Immigration enforcement van arrives on Kenmure Street.
Minutes later a campaigner from the No Evictions network arrives and gets under the van. Neighbours, hearing the commotion as the men are taken out of their flat in handcuffs, come out. Some sit behind the van to stop it moving.
A small crowd of locals and activists have gathered, chanting. News is shared on Twitter and local WhatsApp groups.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and then Cabinet Secretary for Justice meet to discuss concerns about a raid taking place in a Muslim area during Eid, and about the growing number of protesters gathering in a Covid-outbreak area.
Officials arrange a meeting with the Scotland’s director of immigration enforcement. No minister is made available.
Police Scotland releases statement saying that “in order to protect the safety, public health and wellbeing” of everyone involved in the detention and protest, it taken taken the “operational” decision to release the men into the community.
Cover image thanks to Angela Catlin
* This story was updated on 16 May with a comment from the Home Office, which had been requested the previous day.