'Rehabilitated' teen rapist avoids deportation from UK

Scales of justice
Image caption Since the legal battle began, AA has passed a masters degree

The European Court of Human Rights has blocked the deportation of a 24-year-old Nigerian man from the UK who was convicted of rape as a teenager.

The man, known only as AA and who came to the UK aged 13, said deportation would breach his right to family life.

In 2002, aged 15, he was convicted of raping a girl of 13 and spent four years at a Young Offenders Institution.

His lawyers said he has been rehabilitated and deportation was disproportionate.

AA arrived in the UK in 2000 to join his mother, a nurse already working in the country. In September 2002 he and a group of other boys were convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl. The trial judge said the intelligent teenager had manipulated the girl and "had a profound and distressing effect" on her everyday life.

While AA was in custody, his mother was granted permanent residence in the UK, which extended to her children.

A parole board assessment found AA had responded well to rehabilitation and posed a low-risk of reoffending. He was released because of good behaviour and eventually went to university. In July 2004 the Home Office served him with a deportation order because of his serious conviction.

The case went to the European court after a long battle between the home secretary and AA in the British courts, with the young man arguing that his life was legitimately in the UK and he did not pose a threat to society.

Since the legal battle began, AA has passed a masters degree and started working for a London local authority.

Ruling in AA's favour, the Strasbourg court said: "While the fact that the applicant was a minor when he committed the offence does not preclude his deportation given the seriousness of the offence in question, the latter consideration must be carefully weighed against the applicant's exemplary conduct and, as the evidence before the court demonstrates, commendable efforts to rehabilitate himself and to reintegrate into society over a period of seven years."

The judges said the Home Office had not produced evidence to show that AA still posed risk that justified deportation.

"The applicant's deportation from the United Kingdom would be disproportionate to the legitimate aim of the 'prevention of disorder and crime' and would therefore not be necessary in a democratic society," concluded the court.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "We are extremely disappointed by this judegment and will consider the next steps carefully.

"This government is determined to remove foreign criminals from the UK and does not believe that Article 8, the right to family or private life, should outweigh the need to protect the public from serious criminals."

But a spokesman for the Aire Centre, a legal centre which represented AA, welcomed the judgement, saying it recognised he was a reformed character.

She said that had AA been deported it would have sent a "a terrible message about the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders".