'Our daughter could have been born in a detention centre - now we're celebrating her christening'
A baby girl born just weeks after her mother was threatened with deportation has been christened - marking the end of a turbulent year for the Manningtree-based family.
Amillia Faith, now nearly nine months old, was baptised at Lawford Church on Sunday in front of family and friends.
She is the daughter of Dean and Grace Smith, who were last year locked in a row with the Home Office after Chinese national Grace had her third visa application thrown out.
After the ceremony, proud dad Dean thanked those who helped the couple during their ordeal - which saw dozens of people fight their case at a public meeting, while nearly 2,000 signed a petition.
"It's easy to forget that this time last year we were looking at the reality of our family being torn apart," he told this newspaper.
"Having no idea if my daughter would be born in a detention centre.
"It was a very dark time. I think our story and the most amazing day yesterday is not only a celebration but also a testimony to the strength and resilience of people pulling together and true friends and communities standing strong in the face of adversity.
"Yesterday was all about us saying thank you to everyone who supported us."
Local councillors Carlo and Val Guglielmi, who fought the couple's corner and wrote to the former home secretary Amber Rudd last April, were made godparents.
Eventually, Grace was granted a visa after the Home Office reversed their decision at the end of September last year.
Amillia was born just weeks later, on November 25.
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'Cruel and heartless'
Grace was left distraught after being told by the Home Office she must return to China - despite being just weeks away from giving birth.
She met and married husband Dean in China - where they both worked - more than 10 years ago but the pair returned to Manningtree to look after her husband's dying father.
Grace was originally granted a spouse visa which expired in February 2018, and she spent £11,000 on three failed visa applications.
The couple expressed their anguish at receiving a third rejection which they say was particularly "cruel" considering Grace was seven months pregnant.
She even lost her job at Marks and Spencer in Colchester, because her right to work was withdrawn.
Home Office chiefs refused Grace's initial visa bids after suggesting the couple failed to meet financial requirements - according to the department's analysis, their income did not match the required £18,600.
This was heavily disputed by the pair.
Until she lost her job at M&S, Grace was in full-time salaried employment while her husband is a self-employed personal trainer.
What did the Home Office have to say?
When the Home Office was contacted by this newspaper following the third rejection, they got in touch with Grace's representatives, adding they were considering whether it would be appropriate to grant a period of leave - given the circumstances. In late September, Dean said his solicitor had been in touch revealing the Home Office had reversed their decision and granted his wife a visa.
"The Home Office has reversed its decision and granted my wife a visa reinstating full rights to work," he said.