By Louisa Clarence-Smith
Monday November 20, 2023
Yaqub Ahmed, was jailed in 2008 for rape and attempted to block his deportation back to Somalia
A BBC journalist was hired to give evidence used in a tribunal where a Somali rapist was trying to stay in the UK, it has been claimed.The journalist has given evidence in at least seven further immigration cases in the past decade, including in support of a Somali who committed sexual assault on a deaf teenage girl, it was claimed.
Mary Harper, the BBC’s Africa editor, was hired as an expert witness by lawyers representing Yaqub Ahmed, in an attempt to block his deportation to Somalia, The Mail on Sunday reported.
Ahmed is a gang rapist who was jailed in 2008 for attacking a teenage girl in London after she was lured from Leicester Square to a flat in Crouch End.
His planned deportation in 2018 was stopped after holidaymakers on his flight from Heathrow to Istanbul staged a revolt prior to take-off after Ahmed claimed he was being separated from his family and would be killed.
Ms Harper was hired by Ahmed’s London lawyers, Wilson Solicitors, to give evidence in 2021, it is understood.
Appearing at a First-tier immigration tribunal in West London, Ms Harper reportedly told judges that Ahmed could be targeted by terrorist group al-Shabaab because it would want to punish him for raping a 16-year-old girl in the UK.
She is said to have claimed he could be harassed by Somali security forces and would struggle to find a job in Mogadishu’s construction industry because he lacked the right skills.
She also reportedly claimed that the Home Office plans to fly Ahmed to Mogadishu on a charter flight and put him up in a safe hotel would wrongly mark him out as a spy.
The BBC is facing questions about how Ms Harper was able to give evidence as an employee of the broadcaster.
BBC face ‘serious questions’
Dame Priti Patel, the former home secretary, said it was “appalling” that Ms Harper had given evidence.
She said: “I think there has to be serious questions about why a BBC journalist was allowed to give evidence in a case like this. Under what grounds did the BBC see that as appropriate?”
A BBC spokesman said: “There is nothing in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines that prevents staff acting as expert witnesses who, as set out by the Tribunal Procedure Rules, are required to be objective and impartial in their evidence over any other obligation.”
The BBC declined to clarify whether Ms Harper would have been required to seek permission from the corporation before acting as an expert witness in the rapist’s hearing.
Ms Harper has served as the BBC’s Africa editor for almost 15 years, according to her LinkedIn profile.
The website also states that she was educated at £42,000-a-year Bedales School in Hampshire, before studying at Cambridge and the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Concerns surrounding objectivity
Immigration judges have raised concerns about the objectivity of her evidence, The Mail on Sunday reported.
“It was concerning to hear that she had not read thoroughly key material concerning the appellant’s case,” the judges reportedly said.
“The failure to do so and the failure to make reference to previous contrary findings by the tribunal when providing her opinion about risk caused us to have concerns about the objectivity of her evidence on this issue.”
Ms Harper’s evidence was said to have been criticised for “unhelpfully” citing cases that took place outside Mogadishu.
The judges disagreed with her warning about a charter flight in Ahmed’s case and said they agreed with the Home Office “that a charter flight would be a very unusual and counterproductive way to transport a spy”.
In a separate case involving a Somali with a history of offending, Ms Harper’s evidence was also criticised by a judge for lacking objectivity, it was claimed.
The judge said he could attach “little weight” to a report she had prepared, saying it “lacks the objectivity demanded and her review of the country information available is selective”, according to the Sunday newspaper.
Meanwhile, the judges in Ahmed’s case reportedly said they had “significant concerns” about her evidence “containing the same failings as those for which she had been criticised previously”.
Ahmed was reported to have been deported back to Somalia in August.
Ms Harper has been contacted for comment.