After enduring five years of unbearable torment, they were the words Hannah feared she would never hear: ‘He’s gone’. As she sat nervously on the edge of her bed and peered into her mobile phone, a senior Home Office official gently informed her, via a video call three months ago, that Yaqub Ahmed, one of a gang of men who viciously raped her when she was 16, had finally been kicked out of Britain.
For Hannah (not her real name), the news that her brutal attacker’s audacious campaign to use human rights laws to avoid deportation had finally been defeated was overwhelming.
‘I just cried like a baby,’ she tells The Mail on Sunday this weekend. ‘I was just sobbing, saying I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t have any words. I didn’t even ask anything about how he was deported. I just kept saying thank you. After five years of terrible stress, I no longer need to keep fighting.’
The self-confident mother of two who talks to me in a quiet country hotel is very different from the woman who was trembling with a mixture of fear and rage when I first met her in April 2019.
‘I just cried like a baby,’ she tells The Mail on Sunday this weekend. ‘I was just sobbing, saying I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t have any words. I didn’t even ask anything about how he was deported.
To Hannah’s fury, the three-and-a-half minute clip showed the passengers erupting into applause as he was hauled off the Turkish Airlines flight at Heathrow, with one declaring: ‘You’re free, man!’ Years later those images continue to haunt her.
In a direct message to those ‘bleeding heart’ passengers who intervened she now says: ‘If you were that courageous to stand up for him then, why not now be courageous and apologise for what you did? You are the reason that he was still here. You thought you were being such heroes but all you did was keep the predator here and torture me for years.’
Hannah’s life changed forever in August 2007 following a night out at the Zoo Bar in London’s Leicester Square. After becoming separated from her friend, she was approached by a group of men who persuaded her to go to a flat in Crouch End, North London, on the false pretext that her friend was waiting for her.
It was only when she arrived at the dingy flat that she realised she had been lured into a terrifying trap. The men took it in turns to rape her and one of them even attempted to take photographs during the horrifying attack. She was punched in the face as she desperately attempted to escape.
Her piercing screams could be heard by the 999 operator who answered an emergency call from concerned neighbours.
Police officers rushed to the scene and found Ahmed and his associates hiding in the flat.
Ahmed, then 19, and living in Clerkenwell, North London; Adnan Mohamud, 19; and Adnan Barud, 21, from Holloway, North London, were each jailed for nine years for planning and carrying out the rape. A fourth man, Ondogo Ahmed, 19, also of Holloway, received eight years for conspiracy to rape.
Before they were jailed, the court heard expert evidence that Hannah would ‘suffer severe and enduring psychological harm’ as a result of the attack. Tragically, that warning was realised: the rape triggered a complex post-traumatic stress disorder and years of mental anguish.
‘That day ruined me,’ she tells me. ‘What they did to me will haunt me for the rest of my days. I might feel better about it, but it is always going to be there – that mark, that stain on my soul is always going to be there. Nothing will erase that.’
Despite her many troubles, Hannah attempted to rebuild her life in the years after Ahmed’s conviction. By 2018, she was the doting mother to a primary school-aged daughter and working in a job she loved.
But the emergence of the video showing Ahmed’s botched deportation led to the collapse of her mental health. Mounting anxiety forced her to quit work and she was too terrified for her own and her daughter’s safety to travel more than two miles from her home. ‘It took me a while to get little pieces of my life back again but then the last five years have just been back there again – a victim. I don’t want to be that. I want to be more than that.’
Ahmed’s deportation, therefore, became hugely important for Hannah: the key to her closing an immensely painful chapter of her life. ‘I know people say, ‘Just try to put it to the back of your head, there’s nothing you can do’ but it’s not as easy as that. It’s something that constantly creeps in,’ she said.
‘You can’t let someone like that on the streets. If you let them out and he did that to someone else – not that I’d feel responsible but it would hurt your soul to know that he did that to someone else. He’s a predator and you don’t let a predator roam the streets.’
On at least three further occasions, Ahmed was on the brink of being deported only for his removal to be sunk by last-minute challenges from Wilson Solicitors, his legal team. Throughout their battle Home Office officials kept Hannah informed of major developments. Each time her hopes were raised – and then cruelly dashed. By the beginning of this year, she had lost all hope of her tormentor being kicked out.
‘The number of times we thought we were almost there, that the next stage would be deportation – but, no, they would come up with some absolute nonsense. It became ridiculous. I kept getting my hopes up, then it was just soul-crushing.’
Central to his appeal was the claim that deportation back to Somalia would breach his human rights because he was suffering from mental illness and would be at risk of serious harm or killing himself.
Hannah remains furious that Ahmed complained about his allegedly deteriorating mental health when his horrific crime had done so much to destroy hers.
‘That was the biggest insult,’ she said. ‘I was so angry.’
Directing her scorn at her attacker, she added: ‘I hope you feel tortured like I do all the bloody time. I hope you feel worse than me but I highly doubt it. You don’t know suffering.’
In a bid to break the legal deadlock, the Home Office outlined a ‘care package’ for Ahmed in the Somalian capital, Mogadishu. This included full-board accommodation in one of the city’s best hotels for 14 weeks, a month’s supply of antidepressants, therapy at a mental health clinic and transportation in an armoured vehicle.
The taxpayer-funded help is in stark contrast to the years of frustration Hannah endured while struggling to access specialised mental health care. She was finally referred for a therapy which involved recalling the traumatic incident in detail, but found it ‘horrific’ and too much to cope with.
While she believes the care package offered to Ahmed was a ‘clever’ way of defeating his legal arguments, she said it also exposes a legal system that prioritises the human rights of a rapist over those of his victim.
‘In an ideal world none of it would have happened – we would have had more control over our legal system and be able to put a stop to this absolute nonsense behaviour.
‘But our legal system is a joke and what’s been allowed to happen makes us look laughable as a country. We used to say we were quite fair; well, we’re not. Nothing about this has been fair. Not for me, not for people like me.
‘They did what they had to do to get him out. I am not exactly pleased about him having a care package – but if that was the only way to get him gone, then I’m sorry but I’m so glad he’s gone.’
Astonishingly, this package costing thousands of pounds was not, initially, enough to secure Ahmed’s deportation. In yet another cruel blow to Hannah, his cynical planting of a fake video in which associates pretended to be Islamic State terrorists threatening to kill him, delayed his removal for almost another three years. ‘The video was just absolutely ridiculous,’ she says. ‘It is shocking it was allowed. Why would you even hear it? It was just lies, complete fabrication.
‘If it was a credible video then I understand the need to hear it but it clearly wasn’t. It was clearly amateur, clearly manufactured to keep him here.
‘Why would you not see it for what it was, a stalling tactic? God knows how much that cost, the video being heard and put through all the tribunals.’ Now Hannah feels she can finally let go of the past and enjoy seeing her two children flourish. ‘I can’t wait,’ she says. ‘It’s going to be wonderful to be present, because a lot of the time I wasn’t. I was barely functioning and I missed out. It’s going to be really nice to take it all in and enjoy it.’ Her determination to force the authorities to deport Ahmed showed Hannah she has a resolve she never knew she had.
‘It has been horrible but also it has made me realise how much stronger I can be when I need to be and my kids have definitely been a driving force behind it.
‘There have been so many times when I have felt really weak throughout all of this, when I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to keep fighting as I had no fight left. And then I would get a fire in my belly. It’s just the biggest relief that I don’t have to keep going over it.
‘I can let go and look forward rather than constantly having it in my head, always there.’