The Clapham chemical attack is “not really about asylum”, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has claimed.
A manhunt is still under way for Abdul Ezedi following the attack on Wednesday 31 January in which a mother, 31, and her two children, three and eight, were hospitalised.
After two failed attempts, the 35-year-old suspect’s asylum claim to stay in the UK was granted in 2020.
This was despite the fact he was handed a suspended sentence for a sexual offence in November 2018.
Ezedi was allowed to stay in the country after a priest confirmed he had converted to Christianity and had said he was “wholly committed” to his new religion, Sky News understands.
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An asylum seeker can claim asylum in the UK on the basis of religious persecution in their native country.
Speaking to Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, Ms Keegan was asked how it was possible for someone who was repeatedly rejected asylum and who had a criminal record to be granted permission to remain in the country by a tribunal.
The cabinet minister said: “My understanding is the home secretary has asked for all the details, but this is not really about asylum.
“This is about, obviously, the attack on, you know, a mother and her children, which was horrific and obviously impacted others as well.”
Ms Keegan added: “But, you know, it is a question that the home secretary will be asking as well, and looking at that.”
She added that people who have been given a sentence of more than 12 months are normally not able to stay in the UK.
Asked why Ezedi was free to roam the streets, Ms Keegan said: “That’s something that, you know, we need to get to the bottom of. But that’s not something that I have the details of.”
She would not be drawn on whether the asylum tribunal system needed to be reviewed – adding that it was something under Home Secretary James Cleverly’s purview.
Labour’s shadow culture minister, Sir Chris Bryant, told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “If everything that we’ve been told is true, then it seems absolutely extraordinary that the British people should be put at such risk from this person.
“And it does make you ask lots of questions about the criminal justice system in the UK, about the asylum system and how safe our borders are.”
He added that he “would” say there’s something wrong with the system.
Asked about tribunals, he said: “In the end, it’s politicians who write the rules, the tribunals have to follow.
“But of course, it’s something that we need to look at.”