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Minister says Abdul Ezedi case ‘not really about asylum’ as manhunt continues

Abdul Ezedi is on the run (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Abdul Ezedi is on the run (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The focus around the Clapham alkali attack is “not really about asylum”, a Cabinet minister said, as the hunt for prime suspect Abdul Ezedi entered its fourth day.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan made the comments to the Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme on Sky News as she said “we need to get to the bottom of” why Ezedi was able to stay in the UK.

Detectives have urged the 35-year-old from the Newcastle area – who is described as having very “significant injuries to the right side of his face” – to hand himself in after going on the run following Wednesday’s attack in south London.

A 31-year-old mother, believed to be known to Ezedi, was attacked with a corrosive alkaline substance and remains “very poorly” and sedated in hospital, with her injuries thought to be “life-changing”.

The injuries to her daughters, aged three and eight, are “not likely to be life-changing”.

Asked how it was possible the suspect had been granted asylum after being found guilty of a sexual offence, Mrs Keegan said: “I think that is something that more than one person is asking.

“My understanding is the Home Secretary has asked for all the details but this is not really about asylum,” she added, before going on to talk about the victims and others affected by the attack.

She continued: “Clearly, what we say is that anybody who commits crimes is not able to stay in this country. So, if you have a sentence of more than 12 months, you are not allowed to stay if you have a criminal record, etc.

“We don’t want to have people in this country who have criminal records.”

Cabinet meeting
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the case is being investigated (Victoria Jones/PA)

Questions remain over how the suspect, who was granted asylum in the UK after two failed attempts, was able to stay in the country despite being convicted of a sex offence.

Shadow digital minister Sir Chris Bryant told the same programme that Ezedi should not have been granted asylum.

He said: “In the main, on the face of it, if everything that we have been told is true, then it seems absolutely extraordinary that the British people should be put at such risk from this person.

“Of course it’s something we might need to look at.”

Ezedi, who is thought to have arrived in the UK from Afghanistan on the back of a lorry in 2016, claimed to have converted to Christianity, which would have put him at risk following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed he was handed a suspended sentence at Newcastle Crown Court on January 9 2018 after pleading guilty to one charge of sexual assault and one of exposure.

He was put on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years.

Prime Minster Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said on Friday that the PM does not think “foreign criminals should be able to stay” in the UK.

Clapham Common attack, enw images released
An empty container with corrosive warnings on the label was recovered at an address in Newcastle (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle said in a statement it had found nothing to suggest he had become a Catholic but checks were continuing.

It said: “Our thoughts and prayers are first and foremost with the victims of this appalling attack in south London.”

The diocese confirmed that Ezedi “visited our diocesan Justice and Peace Refugee Project, a charitable venture which assists a wide range of people who come to us in need”.

It added: “After checking local parish records and central records and after consulting with clergy we have no indication that Abdul Ezedi was received into the Catholic faith in this diocese or that a Catholic priest of this diocese gave him a reference.

“We do not know which Christian church received him nor which Christian minister gave him a reference.”

The project says on its website that it gives food, toiletries and clothes to vulnerable people.

It does not get involved with any asylum claims that clients may be pursuing, it is understood.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The PA news agency understands that Ezedi visited it recently.

The Church of England said it is not aware of any links to its churches, with a spokesperson adding that it is “the role of the Home Office, and not the church, to vet asylum seekers and judge the merits of their individual cases”.

The case has echoes of that of Iraqi-born Emad Al Swealmeen, 32, who died from a blast and subsequent fire after his homemade bomb detonated in a taxi outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital.

He also claimed to be a Christian convert to support his asylum claim.

The wanted man was last seen at King’s Cross underground station on Wednesday night, where he boarded a southbound Victoria line train.

“Significant and important pieces of evidence” were recovered in raids at two addresses in east London and three in Newcastle, police said.

They include empty containers with corrosive warnings found at one address in Newcastle, which were shown in footage released by detectives on Saturday.

Forensic tests to see if the containers held the substance used in the attack are ongoing.

At a press conference on Friday, the Met’s Commander Jon Savell urged the suspect to hand himself in.

He said: “Abdul, you clearly have got some very significant injuries.

Clapham Common incident
A CCTV image of Abdul Ezedi at King’s Cross Tube station (Metropolitan Police/PA)

“We’ve seen the images. You need some medical help, so do the right thing and hand yourself in.”

The wanted man left Newcastle in the “very, very early hours” of Wednesday and travelled south to the capital and was in the Tooting area by around 6.30am, police say.

His vehicle was seen again in Croydon, south London, at around 4.30pm and by around 7pm he was in Streatham.

Ezedi allegedly threw the younger child to the ground during the attack at 7.25pm, before attempting to drive away from the scene, crashing into a stationary vehicle and fleeing on foot.

Minutes later he boarded a Tube train at Clapham South Underground station, and by 8pm he was at King’s Cross Tube station.

At 8.42pm, Ezedi was captured on CCTV in Tesco on the Caledonian Road, pictured with a “fairly significant facial injury” buying a bottle of water, before leaving and heading right.

He got on a Victoria line Tube at 9pm heading south, the last confirmed sighting.

Police say three members of the public who came to the aid of the family during Wednesday’s attack, two in their 30s and one in her 50s, have all been discharged from hospital with minor burns.

Police at the scene of an incident near Clapham Common, south London on Wednesday night
Police at the scene of an incident near Clapham Common, south London on Wednesday night (PA)

Five officers who responded to the incident were also treated and have now left hospital.

As well as the 11 people taken to hospital, a man in his 50s, who also helped, declined hospital treatment for minor injuries, police said.