On November 14, 2017 Dr Paul Hamilton, a member of the Kingston Shakespeare Seminar, flew into Heathrow Airport from Arizona, to assist in the organisation of two conferences at Kingston’s Rose Theatre (‘Marlowe and Shakespeare’ and ‘Shakespeare and the Philosophical Turn’), to speak at the latter event, to temporarily participate in the seminar’s activities, and to take up an Honorary Fellowship at Kingston University. After being held for 45 minutes at the UK border, he was given entry into the UK, and the Visa page of his passport was endorsed with a certification that he had ‘Leave to enter for / until six months’, on the condition that he had ‘No work or recourse to public funds’. This condition was entirely consonant with his Honorary Fellowship status, and the fact that all his work for Kingston Shakespeare (like that of the other participants) would be on a voluntary basis, with no payment, salary, or remuneration of expenses whatever.
Following the ‘Marlowe and Shakespeare’ conference, Dr Hamilton learned that his friend and colleague Professor Martin Regal had died, and that the University of Iceland would be holding a memorial service in his honour in Reykjavik, on Saturday December 2, 2017. A group composed of Dr Hamilton, Anna Ilona Rajala, Timo Uotinen, Mark Wheeler and Professor Richard Wilson was formally invited by the University of Iceland to attend the memorial. This party left from Gatwick on December 1, 2017, and spent the weekend in Reyjavik.
On returning to Gatwick, and just before 20.00 on Monday December 4, Dr Hamilton was detained at passport control, and shortly afterwards moved to a holding area. The border official who had checked his passport then proceeded to question him, before donning a security belt with handcuffs. Timo Uotinen and Anna Rajala, who had stayed behind to wait for Dr Hamilton, informed the official that they would answer any questions, or give a statement on his behalf, as he was resident with them at their home in Seaford, Sussex, during his short stay in the UK. At this point another official collected Dr Hamiltion and took him to the customs area upstairs, where the official proceeded to inspect his belongings in public, and in full view of other passengers. Dr Hamilton was then escorted back downstairs, pending a further in-depth interview. Ms Rajala then left the airport, due to teaching commitments the following day. Mr Uotinen, a PhD student at Royal Holloway University, London, continued to wait for Dr Hamilton’s release, and at this point began a live tweet about the dismaying treatment of his colleague.
Dr Hamilton remained in contact with Mr Uotinen via text messages. At 21.38 Dr Hamilton relayed the form he had received from officials, which informed him that he was held for questioning and liable to be detained. Shortly after sending this message, Dr Hamilton ceased communicating, and Mr Uotinen asked officers about his whereabouts. They had no knowledge of Dr Hamilton’s place of detention, but requested that Mr Uotinen move to the general Arrivals area, to await information and any request to corroborate Dr Hamilton’s statements. Mr Uotinen then informed the US Embassy about Dr Hamilton’s situation. Embassy officials were able to confirm that he was still at the airport and being retained in a holding area. Around 24.00, some four hours after Dr Hamilton’s initial detention at passport control, he was able to call Mr Uotinen to supply the phone number of outside his holding cell, his own mobile phone having been confiscated.
At this stage, Dr Hamilton did not know when he was to be ‘interviewed in-depth’. He was left to wait with other detainees in a room furnished with mattresses on the floor. At about 03.00 Dr Hamilton was taken into a scripted interrogation, where the officer consistently chose to disregard his advice that Mr Uotinen and others were standing by to be called to corroborate his statements. Instead, the officer continued to follow the scripted questions with which he had been provided. Despite repeatedly requesting the official to contact his friends for corroboration, Dr Hamilton was informed that the UK border and immigration officers considered him to be lying and untruthful. The officers had apparent problems understanding Dr Hamilton’s need to publish and attend academic events to further his professional career, and difficulty in accepting his reasons for travelling to Iceland. In a further form they stated that he had failed to satisfy the Authority with his answers about the memorial service of Professor Regal. The “interview”, or interrogation, was conducted by Immigration Officer 16223.
Around 06.00 on Tuesday December 5, 2017 Dr Hamilton was informed that he would be deported on the 10.35 WOW Air flight from Gatwick to Keflavik. On learning of this decision, Mr Uotinen contacted the Border and Immigration officials, and was referred to Ben (badge number 6668) on the telephone. Officer Ben confirmed that a decision had been made to send Dr Hamilton back to Iceland, and that this decision was irreversible. He did offer to request the officer in charge to call Mr Uotinen by phone. Shortly afterwards, an individual who identified himself as Mr Bentley called Mr Uotinen. This person was insistent that Dr Hamilton had not been targeted because he was an academic, but he refused to answer the question why officers had not contacted Dr Hamilton’s friends and colleagues for corroboration. He further disregarded the fact that Dr Hamilton was scheduled to present his research at the ‘Shakespeare and the Philosophical Turn’ conference on December 9. Before ending the call, Mr Bentley stated that Dr Hamilton was being deported to Iceland due to ‘a personal reason’, known to Dr Hamilton, and which he could not divulge.
Dr Hamilton has said that the ‘personal reason’ to which Mr Bentley was referring was the fact that he had been unable to use his American bank card in a UK cash machine. This had been because he had planned not to use that card while staying with friends in the UK, and consequently had not activated his overseas withdrawal facility with his US bank. The officers disregarded Dr Hamilton’s attempt to confirm to them his current American bank balance electronically. Neither were they prepared to view the credit in his UK bank account, and were unwilling to take account of his two credit cards, each with a large sum available. The only evidence they deemed significant was his lack of access to a cash machine. When Dr Hamilton requested to use his credit card to buy a return ticket to the United States, as an alternative to being returned to Iceland, the supervisor sincerely asked Mr Uotinen how he could pay for a flight to the US if he had no money. This suggested the officer’s inability to comprehend the most basic aspects of Dr Hamilton’s financial arrangements.
The UK border officers further claimed that Dr Hamilton had made “frequent and successive” attempts to visit the UK. This claim was in clear contradiction of the evidence that Dr Hamilton had made no journey outside the USA until November 14, since he had been deported to the USA following his notorious detention in January 2016; and that his return from Iceland was only his second entry into the UK in two years. Moreover, Dr Hamilton expressly assured the officials that he would be staying in the UK for only a further two weeks, as he had a return ticket to Arizona dated December 18, 2017.
Dr Hamilton was flown back to Iceland (courtesy of the UK tax payers) on WOW air flight 811. Professor Astradur Eysteinsson and other and colleagues of the late Professor Regal at the University of Iceland have generously assisted his arrival Reykjavik, and have arranged for his accommodation on the university campus in an official guest apartment.
Important questions remain: What were the circumstances that changed between November 14 and December 4 for the border and immigration officials to deny Dr Hamilton re-entry into the UK? Why did his permission to ‘leave to enter for/until six months’ not actually count as having leave to enter the UK from a memorial service in Iceland? As Paul’s work and economic situation are identical to those of the majority of early career academics who graduate from British universities, is the UK Border Authority effectively imposing a ban on all precariously employed early career academics – in practice denying them the opportunity to advance their careers?
These questions are urgent considering that Kingston Shakespeare regularly hosts junior academics in situations comparable to that of Dr Hamilton; and a student / ECA is in fact coming from America for our conference this Saturday. Can he expect to be denied entry or forcibly deported? Finally, is there no oversight on the arbitrary actions of UK Border and Immigration officers?
Statement by Timo Uotinen with assistance from Anna Ilona Rajala