Woman seeks apology in deportation row

A RELIEVED grandmother last night demanded an apology from the Home Office after she won her battle against deportation only hours before she was due to be sent to America.

By Richard Smith

A RELIEVED grandmother last night demanded an apology from the Home Office after she won her battle against deportation only hours before she was due to be sent to America.

Mary Martin, 55, of Carriage Close, Trimley St Mary, warned she would have gone into hiding to have escaped the clutches of immigration officers who were due to deport her today.

But a last-minute change of heart saved the grandmother from leaving Suffolk where she has lived for the last 53 years - and now she is preparing to celebrate her 56th birthday on Saturday with a large family party.

Miss Martin sat in her semi-detached house surrounded by her partner, Ted Harrod, 61, a daughter Lorraine Wells, 35, of Melton, and three grandchildren Sheri, 17, Sharlene, 14, and Kieron, 12, and toasted the news that she was no longer classified as an illegal immigrant.

''I want to smile, I want to laugh, I want to cry - but I am also tired. I think that the woman who sent me the letter about the deportation was a silly woman. I do not think she considered who I was, what I was about, and to her I was just a number,'' said Miss Martin, who was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She left America aged two.

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Miss Martin, a cleaner at Trimley St Mary primary school, had discovered a problem with her citizenship status after her mother June died two years ago. The Home Office said she had never been registered as a British citizen and they refused her application because it was not accepted she had lived in the UK for a substantial period.

Miss Martin produced her national insurance number, income tax details and wage slips - but she was still told she had to return to America where she had not lived since she was two.

A Home Office spokesman said yesterday Beverley Hughes, the Immigration Minister, had personally reviewed Miss Martin's case and decided she should stay.

The spokesman added: ''The decision to refuse her application was clearly a mistake and defies common sense. We will investigate this thoroughly and ensure that lessons are learned.''

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer took up Miss Martin's case and he called her with the news that she could stay.

Mr Gummer said: ''She should never have been put in this position. I have never heard of anything like this in all my time as an MP. I have never seen a case as bad as this.

''I think the Home Office has got to think seriously how properly do they apologise and the way they have been treating people as numbers and not as people.

''I think we showed them what an absolute nonsense the whole thing was. I think they now realise this and it has caused a great deal of embarrassment.''

Miss Martin admitted she had experienced a rollercoaster of emotions since she was told last Friday that she had to leave.

''I was devastated. I could not believe it when I received the letter and I thought it was a joke,'' she said.

Mr Harrod, a self-employed builder, said: ''I have always considered her 100% British. The only bit about her which is American is the fact that she was born there. I felt really bitter that they were trying to throw her out of the country while so many asylum seekers are allowed to stay.''

Now Miss Martin will once again be free to appreciate her life in Suffolk. She enjoys her job - she has been on compassionate leave since the deportation row blew up - the open spaces, the fields, village life, the quietness of the area and the friendship of the Trimley Wives group.

Miss Martin said she had been overwhelmed by the support of people in the county. ''There were all these people who I did not know supporting me and I thought there was a glimmer of hope that it could be sorted,'' she said.

Her daughter Lorraine said: ''It is just brilliant that she is able to stay. It is just so ridiculous that all this could have happened in the first place.''

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