The Home Secretary says she is ‘bitterly disappointed’ a charter flight due to take asylum seekers to Madrid has been grounded by a judge after lawyers raised concerns that passengers could end up destitute in Spain.

Lawyers representing three men, who arrived in Britain on small boats during the summer, mounted a successful High Court challenge in a bid to halt the flight, which had been chartered by Home Office officials.

“We are bitterly disappointed with the court’s ruling, which has prevented us from returning people who have no right to be here,” Priti Patel said in a statement.

“This case has not abated our determination and we have more flights planned in the coming weeks and months.”

The asylum seekers’ lawyers said the three men should not be flown to Madrid until more investigations had been carried out into Spanish immigrant reception facilities.

Lawyers representing Ms Patel had argued that the flight should be allowed to leave and said Spanish authorities could be trusted to comply with their obligations to asylum seekers.

Priti Patel
Priti Patel says the Home Office remains determined to return people ‘who have no right to be here’ (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

But Sir Duncan Ouseley on Wednesday ruled in favour of the three men, and said the flight should not leave, after considering rival arguments at a High Court hearing in London.

The three men, a Syrian and two from Yemen, had travelled to Britain from north Africa, but had first set foot on the European mainland in Spain, the judge heard.

Spanish authorities had agreed they should be returned and make asylum claims in Spain.

Other immigrants due to be on the flight scheduled early on Thursday are thought to be in a similar position.

Lawyers representing the three men said there had been criticism of Spanish reception facilities, with reports of asylum seekers being forced to sleep rough because the border post at Madrid Airport had been “overwhelmed by demand”.

The three men were vulnerable and had mental health issues, lawyers said.

Sir Duncan said the men’s lawyers had raised a serious issue related to immigrant reception facilities in Madrid.

He said the charter flight should not leave until that issue had been fully investigated at a trial.

The judge said that a trial should be staged in the near future.