The home secretary has asked to see all official papers about the Clapham chemical assault suspect Abdul Ezedi, who was granted asylum despite having a sexual assault conviction.
James Cleverly requested the documents on Thursday, as rightwing Tory MPs seized on the case, after news emerged about how Ezedi received refugee status in apparent breach of guidelines after two failed attempts and a 2018 conviction for sexual assault.
A review has not been launched, but one could yet emerge after Cleverly views the records, according to sources close to him.
However, Cleverly’s predecessor, Suella Braverman, sought to heap pressure on the government by claiming that the history of the case demonstrated why Britain needed to overhaul human rights laws and leave the European convention on human rights.
The former home secretary said on X that Britain faced a “national security emergency” and, in a reference to reports that Ezedi was allowed to stay in the UK after a priest confirmed he had converted to Christianity, posted: “Spurious claims based on religion are commonplace in our asylum system. The bar is low, it’s easy to game the system & it happens.”
Ezedi’s application is believed to have been successful on the third occasion when it was seen by a tribunal, after being rejected earlier by caseworkers.
Police have been searching for him in connection with a corrosive substance attack that left a mother and her two girls in hospital, as well as injuring members of the public who tried to help the victims.
Calls for Cleverly to carry out a “detailed review” of how Ezedi was granted refugee status were also made by the former immigration minister Robert Jenrick.
Jenrick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we need to investigate the particular circumstances. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions, and I would expect the home secretary to conduct a detailed review of what has happened and what may have gone seriously wrong in this case, and to put that information in the public domain, such is the public interest.”
However, Amnesty International warned that the attack should not be used as a pretext to target people seeking asylum or undermine the process, as the charity said its “hearts went out to the victims” involved.
“The government urgently needs to ensure that the claims of anyone seeking asylum in the UK are decided fairly and efficiently and not be distracted by those seeking to exploit the Clapham attack for their own ends,” said Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty UK’s chief executive.
“There will always be a place for reflection on whether our policing, mental health and other services can better safeguard us all, but launching cynical and ill-informed attacks on the asylum system won’t help safeguard anybody.”
Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said on Friday that the prime minister did not think “foreign criminals should be able to stay in the country, putting the public at risk”.
The government had been behind “the strongest legislation ever introduced”, he added, citing the Nationality and Borders Act and Illegal Migration Act.
Caseworkers were trained to work through any issues, Sunak’s spokesperson said when pressed on whether individuals were attempting to pretend to convert to Christianity to exploit a loophole.
The 35-year-old suspect is thought to have arrived in the UK from Afghanistan by lorry in 2016 and his initial asylum claim was rejected that year. It was rejected for a second time after he said he had become a Christian, which would have put him at risk if he had returned to Afghanistan.
The decision was overturned by a tribunal in 2020, having heard from a church witness who said they believed Ezedi had converted. By then, he had been convicted of sexual assault and exposure, received a 45-week suspended prison sentence and been placed on the sex offender register.