Refugee activist’s house in Home Office raid for ‘unknown illegal persons’

A prominent refugee campaigner has demanded an explanation from the Home Office and Northumbria police after immigration enforcement officers raided his home without a warrant.

Tony Pierre – who has worked with refugees in Newcastle and abroad for the past seven years, making at least 10 trips to bring aid to refugees living on the streets in Calais and Dunkirk – said two immigration officers claiming to be looking for “illegal immigrants” searched his house in an isolated hamlet last week, with local police officers in attendance.

He said: “[The raid] was very stressful, embarrassing and borderline humiliating. There were two vans involved and police officers in the field behind my house. My neighbours came out to see what was going on. The [immigration officers] searched everywhere, including wardrobes and cupboards They even checked the little hen house in the garden.”

“I don’t know what information they were given, but it was completely incorrect. It could well be a malicious complaint because I work with refugees.”

They left without finding anyone hiding in his home and gave him a Home Office form, seen by the Observer, stating they were searching for “unknown illegal persons”.

Pierre, 65, a psychiatric nurse, said the officers did not have a warrant, but he let them into his house because he did not want the threat of a further visit hanging over him: “I had nothing to hide and I didn’t want to lose sleep over it.”

Pierre is also the campaign manager for the leftwing North of Tyne mayor, Jamie Driscoll, who is hoping to be elected mayor for the whole of the north-east next year.

Pierre has now written to the Home Office’s immigration enforcement service asking it for an explanation for the raid and an apology.

The raid came on the same day last week that the home secretary, Suella Braverman, claimed in a controversial speech to a rightwing US thinktank that uncontrolled and illegal migration posed an existential challenge to the political and cultural institutions of the west.

Shami Chakrabarti, the former shadow attorney general, who now sits in the House of Lords, said Pierre had been treated like a dangerous criminal: “While Ms Braverman wanders off to Washington to make her ‘rivers of blood’ speech, she leaves chaos and cruelty for refugees and asylum seekers at home. “I look forward to hearing why this refugee activist was treated like a dangerous criminal while genuine criminals laugh at our underfunded and crisis-ridden policing.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Immigration enforcement visits are intelligence-led. The public rightly expects we investigate each potential breach thoroughly.”

A Northumbria police spokesperson said: “On Tuesday, two of our officers assisted immigration officers with the search of a property in the Horsley area of Northumberland.”