An Iranian asylum seeker who posed as a 15-year-old GCSE student was outed as an adult today as the Home Office launched a probe into how its staff failed to spot he was closer to 30.
The 6ft 1in man, who came to Britain using the name Siavash, spent six weeks as a Year 11 pupil at Stoke High School in Ipswich, Suffolk, but was only taken out of class when pupils became upset and parents threatened a boycott.
An official probe has concluded he is almost certainly over 18 and he is now being treated as an adult asylum seeker, meaning he could be deported if his claim is refused.
The Home Office today launched an investigation into how a grown man claiming to be 15 was believed and then placed in a school with children as young as 11.
Stoke High School, whose principal is Caroline Wilson, has also been accused of failing its children with critics saying his true age should have been ‘spotted from day one’.
Desmond Newby, 51, kept his daughters Jamie, 15, and Alicia, 13, out of class while the man was there and said today: ‘All I wanted in the first place was for him to be removed. I’m ashamed both for the school and the Government for allowing this to happen. They have both failed to protect our children. The teachers should be sacked’.
The student was suspended earlier this month after a fellow student posted a Snapchat picture of him in uniform in a classroom with the message: ‘How’s there a 30-year-old man in our maths class?’
Siavash, the refugee student removed from Stoke High School in Ipswich (pictured by another student on Snapchat) has been confirmed as an adult by the Home Office after they initially accepted he was 15
The man was suspended from school after classmates started questioning his age and also claimed they found pictures of him on Facebook swigging a beer in Germany (pictured) with a full beard
His classmates also discovered what appeared to be old pictures of him on Facebook, showing him with a full beard, a hairy chest and swigging a beer.
One boy even claimed he confessed to being a married father-of-two during a game of football in the playground.
The man’s brother was in Year 7 but the Home Office insists he is a child, but he has been moved to a new school.
In what could be a landmark case for child asylum seekers entering Britain, it emerged today:
- Home Office probe concludes the man at the centre of the row – who said he was 15 – is almost certainly an adult;
- Investigators who looked at his case again were so confident he was over the age of 18 they didn’t need a medical examination or teeth x-ray;
- Immigration officials who failed to dispute his age when he arrived in the UK face an investigation;
- School will also face safeguarding questions over whether they could have raised the alarm earlier;
- Parents claimed they were threatened with legal action by the school when they questioned the student’s true age – while pupils who pointed out his facial hair were told teenager mature at different rates;
- Man’s brother was in Year 7. His age is not in dispute but he has now been moved out of the school;
Parents and children at the school have expressed their anger about the scandal.
A Year 7 boy, who was in the same class as the younger brother of asylum seeker, spoke outside the school this afternoon with the permission of his mother.
He said: ‘It was really scary at first because you don’t know if they’re going to be a really bad person. How was he allowed to get into the school without any checks?’.
His mother said: ‘They should have done more checks. I blame the Home Office. It was scary because you don’t who this person is. It’s supposed to be safe’.
Beverley Isles, 57, who has a child at the school, said: ‘It’s ridiculous that they let a 30 year old man in. It’s absolutely ridiculous’.
One mother who has a son at the school said: ‘It’s horrible, I don’t want to think what could have happened. I’ve got a son but if I had a daughter I would be even more concerned.’
She added: ‘He wanted an education and he could’ve come in as an adult and got an education. I’m 35 years old and I’m at college studying to be a mental health nurse.
How young asylum seekers are aged by height, facial hair and voice – but many are ‘given benefit of doubt’
Asylum seekers must be treated as an adult if their physical appearance and demeanour ‘very strongly suggests that they are significantly over 18 years of age’.
Around 6,000 child migrants arrive in the UK every year.
Assessments of physical appearance can include indicators of age such as height, build, facial hair and voice pitch.
When assessing demeanour, officials can take into account observations on the individual’s mannerisms, body posture and eye contact.
Instructions state age assessments cannot always provide the same degree of confidence about treating an individual as an adult or a child as can be provided by reliable documents, adding: ‘To allow for this, the principle of ‘the benefit of the doubt’ is applied.’
Earlier this year, a watchdog report revealed some local authorities had raised concerns the ‘benefit of the doubt’ policy was being applied ‘too readily’ in relation to unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
The report, published in March by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, cited data indicating that from the start of July 2016 to the end of June 2017, the Home Office had raised 705 age disputes.
Of the 618 resolved, 402 (65%) claimants were found to be over 18 and 216 (35%) were found to be children.
Age verification processes came under scrutiny in 2016 when teenagers were transferred to the UK from Calais following the closure of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp.
Controversy erupted when Tory MP David Davies claimed some arrivals ‘don’t look like children to me’.
‘I don’t believe this is an isolated issue, they’ve got to look into it a lot more.’
Kelly McNamee said today: ‘You can’t tell me that the teachers never had any suspicion…He’s clearly an adult’ and Cherry Evans wrote on Facebook: ‘Why was it not reported the first day he was there by staff?? How was it allowed to go on so long? Awful’.
Another Ipswich resident said on Facebook today: ‘Clearly the children can do a better job of guessing an age than the officials’.
The man is believed to have presented himself as an unaccompanied child when he arrived in the UK having travelled to Britain via Germany from Iran without any paperwork such as a passport or birth certificate.
In a detention centre his age was then assessed by being asked questions by immigration officials.
But he was not subject to a medical examination because these are not automatic and only used when the Home Office say a child refugee’s appearance ‘very strongly suggests that they are significantly over 18 years of age’.
In late September he then started at Stoke High School in Ipswich after being found a family to live with in Suffolk’s county town.
But within six weeks, on the day the man was due to sit a mock GCSE exam, he was pulled out of school over claims he was actually closer to 30.
Home Office officials questioned him again and ruled he was almost certainly an adult without the need for medical tests to help determine his age, such as an X-ray of his teeth.
This suggests that experts believed it was obvious he was over 18 – or the man himself admitted he lied about his age.
Van driver Desmond Newby, 51, whose daughters Jamie, 15, and Alicia, 13, attend Stoke High School said he and other parents had not been given any new information about the pupil by the school.
He said previously: ‘He is clearly far older than the age he claims to be. All the kids realise that he is actually a man – so why did the school allow him to become a student.
‘If I went to the school wearing a school uniform and demanding an education, I would be turned away straight away – yet he was allowed to stay. It defies all common sense.
‘I can’t say what this guy’s motives are, but it is a serious safeguarding issue. Nobody is calling him a nonce or a terrorist, but you simply should not have a fully grown man sitting in a class of children.’
The Year 11 pupil who claimed to be aged 15 but looks far older with Facebook posts alleged to show him with a thick beard and sipping beers
Some outraged parents withdrew their children from the school over the scandal, forcing senior staff to remove the asylum seeker from class.
Mother and fathers claimed children were potentially being put in danger by the presence of a man posing as a boy.
The Home Office has refused to reveal the newly assessed age of the man or any details of his background due to data protection issues.
Officials who rubber-stamped his status as a child now face an investigation into how and why they came to that decision amid claims they just took him at ‘face value’.
The school, whose principal is Caroline Wilson, also faces safeguarding questions.
Sandy Martin, the Labour MP for Ipswich, said the Home Office ‘need to get their act together’ to ensure adults cannot pose as children in the classroom.
He said: ‘The Home Office needs to make sure that they are not sending people who are overage to school.
‘They have the means to do this and they need to do it. It doesn’t help the young people involved any more than it helps the schools.
Caroline Wilson is the executive principal of Stoke High School – Ormiston Academy, which has 668 students
‘I think the fact that it has had such a high profile in the news has made sure that the Home Office will do their job a bit better in the future, (although) the history of the Home Office doing its job a bit better isn’t very encouraging.’
The Home Office is currently investigating how the man’s claim to be aged 15 came to be believed and he is believed to have been moved from the area.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We are fully committed to safeguarding children and are looking into the circumstances of this case to understand how it was handled.
‘Age-disputed cases remain a challenging area of work in which no single assessment technique, or combination of techniques, is likely to determine an individual’s age with precision.
‘In the absence of clear and credible documentary evidence, Home Office staff must rely on physical appearance and demeanour to make an initial assessment on whether a person claiming to be a child is under 18.
‘If an individual is assessed to be under 18, but subsequent concerns about their age are raised – for example by a school – we will act quickly to reconsider the case.’
The spokesman confirmed that asylum seekers claiming to be aged under 18 are believed and treated as children by the Home Office unless they meet one of three criteria.
They are only assessed as adults if there is ‘clear and credible documentary evidence’ that they are, an approved local authority assessment reaches the conclusion or if two immigration officers rule that their ‘physical appearance or demeanour very strongly suggests they are significantly over 18 years of age’.
The man’s brother was also at Stoke High in Ipswich, but the Home Office say they are sure he is a child. He has been moved to another school
In the case of immigration officers making the ruling, at least one of them has to be of Chief Immigration Officer grade or above.
The Home Office spokesperson added: ‘When there is doubt about an individual’s claim to be a child, the individual will be referred to a local authority’s social services department for a careful, case law-compliant age assessment and they will be treated as a child until a decision on their age is made.
‘If an individual is assessed to be over 18, we will process any asylum claim as being made by an adult. If the application is unsuccessful, and appeal rights are exhausted, removal action will be pursued as appropriate.
‘In the absence of documentary evidence, Home Office staff are only able to treat a claimant as an adult if their physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are significantly over 18 years of age – and where two officers have reached this conclusion independently.
‘The threshold is set deliberately high so that only those who are very clearly over 18 are assessed as adults.’
The man started at Stoke High School which is run by the Ormiston Academies Trust soon after the start of term in September.
It was suggested that he was the brother of a Year 7 pupil at the school who was claiming he was 12-years-old and appeared to look his age.
Pupils became suspicious when they saw that the clean shaven pupil appeared to have the shadow of a beard on his face.
They then discovered the Facebook profile in his name which described him as having been an architecture student at the Islamic Azad University in Abadan, Iran, before living in Erfurt, Germany.
The pictures on the now deleted profile showed him with a beard and drinking a bottle of beer on a street, and also included an image of the boy who was said to be his younger brother.
It was also revealed that the pupil allegedly bombarded a 15-year-old girl classmate with text messages, prompting her to complain to safeguarding staff – because she was worried about his true age.
But the girl was told that there was nothing ‘sinister’ about the texts as they were not of a sexual nature.
When shown the alleged Facebook picture of the pupil with a beard, the teacher allegedly said that people matured at different ages. She stopped receiving messages from him after she complained.
A mother of another pupil said the man had told her son that he was aged 25 and was married with two children when he was asked if he wanted to join in a game of football at break time.
The pupil was removed from the school earlier this month on the day he was due to sit a mock GCSE maths exam and has not been seen there since. The younger pupil who claimed to be his brother was taken out of school at the same time.
The Ormiston Academies Trust confirmed at the time that the pupils were ‘not attending the school’ and that it had asked the Home Office to investigate the case.
The stepfather of a girl in the same class as the pupil said he had gone to the school to complain before the man was removed and had contacted Suffolk Police to make a complaint that a grown man was ‘posing as a pupil’ in her class.
He said: ‘They logged my call and advised me to go back to the school and demand what action they were going to take,
‘I ended up speaking to this teacher who said that the Facebook picture of the boy was a case of mistaken identity.
‘The teacher actually threatened that all the parents who were jumping on the bandwagon could face legal action because complaining about the pupil was a criminal offence. He was basically calling all the parents bullies.
‘The teacher told me that he had children himself and all the paperwork and been looked at for this person and had been passed by the Home Office. I was absolutely livid and was trying to behave myself.
‘He was so ignorant and not really listening to what I was saying. I wanted to kick him up the backside and tell him not to be so naïve. My last words to him were, ‘You have not heard the last about this’.
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council denied that it was involved in the age assessment of the pupil and Suffolk Police said they do not believe there is any police investigation into the case.