“I have put her as your wife, so take her.”
As Ratha, a Sri Lankan rice farmer, stood at Colombo Airport waiting for his ticket to the UK, the job recruiter gestured to a woman he had never seen before.
“Unless you go with her, you will have trouble and your money will not be returned,” he was told.
Ratha had paid this man – who he believed to be a recruitment “agent” – £50,000 for passage to the UK, selling property that had been in his family for generations.
But in being forced to pose as someone’s fake husband, he claims to have fallen victim to criminal gangs exploiting the UK’s skilled worker visa system.
While Rishi Sunak has made stopping English Channel small boat crossings one of his key priorities, Sky News can reveal allegations a legal route is being used for people smuggling.
Criminal gangs are using Britain’s need to fill jobs by using the skilled worker visa system as a route to move people to this country. Under the scheme, someone who has been offered a job in the UK is allowed to bring dependents with them.
But Sky News has been told about multiple cases where the entitlement to bring dependents on a skilled worker visa is being abused.
The hefty price tag
Ratha says he paid the money because he believed it would result in a job, and eventually, permanent residency in the UK.
The woman who pretended to be his wife – the owner of the work visa – has now disappeared.
He is staying with friends in Staffordshire because his relatives don’t want him to be alone, fearing for his mental health.
He claims he was fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka, and was unaware he would be travelling as a fake dependent on someone else’s work visa before he got to Colombo airport.
“I thought I was the only one travelling. At the entrance of the airport I was told to wait then a woman arrived,” says Ratha.
“The agent said: ‘I have put her as your wife, so take her’.”
At first, he refused to go along with the plan but he claims to have been threatened and refused a refund.
The fake son
With Ratha came a 19-year-old, who says he pretended to be his son.
His name is Hinthujan and he’s now living in Liverpool. He cuts a fearful, lonely figure.
His family spent their life savings on his journey to the UK hoping he could join their relatives in the city’s Sri Lankan community.
Hinthujan says he had no idea what was happening until he got to Colombo Airport, where he was forced to partner with a fake father and mother.
Unable to speak a word of English, he is now an asylum seeker after the group were questioned and detained at Heathrow Airport.
“There are lots of problems going on in Sri Lanka. It is not possible to stay there – that is why we came,” he told Sky News via a translator.
“I was scared when [the agent] told me, ‘If you say they are your mother and father, there will be no problem’.”
‘I felt scared but couldn’t do anything’
When Mrs A turned up for her flight from Sri Lanka to the UK, she says the people she paid £65,000 to for a work visa handed over her permit, flight tickets – and a 12 year-old boy.
“It was a shock,” she says. “It was all last minute. I felt scared but couldn’t do anything about it. They guaranteed there wouldn’t be any problems.”
After they landed at Heathrow Airport, the boy was met by people Mrs A didn’t recognise and she never saw him again.
Mrs A – who asked not to be identified – said the visa was issued by the British High Commission in Sri Lanka.
“It was only after I arrived in the UK that I realised it was a big mistake. I know I’ve been used.
“The boy already knew he was coming into the country but I didn’t know.”
Mrs A handed over the sum of money believing the agents would find her work in the UK – and that she didn’t need to speak English.
She was offered a job by a care company and then provided with a Certificate of Sponsorship by the Home Office enabling her visa. But it’s a basic requirement for people coming to work in the UK as carers on skilled worker visas to speak English.
Mrs A can’t read, write, or speak English and has no qualifications. But a fake certificate used by the gang to apply for a job lists her as having a “very good pass” in an English exam.
Sky News has obtained the false documents submitted to the care agency with her job application. They include a nursing diploma and fake certificates for biology, physics and chemistry.
Her fake CV boasts she spent seven years “providing direct nursing care to patients in a busy hospital ward environment” – and two years providing care to patients in a home for the elderly.
It says she’s skilled at safe patient handling and first aid.
None of this is true.
What are skilled worker visas – and how many are granted each year?
In February 2022, the Government changed the rules for those wanting to come to the UK to work, making it easier for those from abroad to apply.
It expanded the Shortage Occupation List and removed the requirement to prove that UK residents were unable to fill any listed roles. Care Support Worker is the lowest-skilled job on this expanded Shortage Occupations List.
The Migration Advisory Council’s annual report recommended the change, as well as setting a minimum salary of £20,480 per year.
The government agreed with this recommendation at the time “to help ensure short-term sustainability as social care builds back from the pandemic”.
Last year, almost 150,000 people came to the UK last year on skilled worker visas.
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‘People sell everything and end up with nothing’
Zeena Luchowa, from the Law Society Immigration Committee, said: “It’s extremely alarming and concerning that we have a system that is not catching exploitation at this level and there needs to be some way of the home office reviewing its systems to look at what’s not working here.”
Sky News contacted the firm Mrs A thought she was coming to work for. It said they had no idea the documents used for Mrs A’s application by the recruiters in Sri Lanka were fake.
Care England represents the largest number of independent adult social care providers in the UK. It confirmed that there is no “specific requirement” for any healthcare-related qualifications to come to this country as a carer. But it is a requirement to speak, read, write and understand English to at least an intermediate level.
Mrs A’s legal adviser said: “The British government needs people. But the criminal gangs use this work permit legal system for their own benefit to make a lot of money.”
Meanwhile, he said, people from other countries “sell their jewellery and property, give it to criminal gangs and end up with nothing. They come here and can’t work, can’t rent and end up on the street.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are actively investigating the claims made.
“Abuse of our immigration system will not be tolerated. Anyone who has used false documents, misrepresented their personal circumstances or practiced deception by any other means will have their application refused and may face a ban on making further applications for up to 10 years.”
The Home Office is now reviewing its processes to try to prevent future abuse of the skilled worker visa system.
‘I sold everything three generations of my family worked for’
Vinothan is another Sri Lankan who has joined the UK’s backlog of asylum seekers. The job he thought he was coming to do didn’t work out.
Vinothan, his wife and two young children are now living in a friend’s spare room. He claims the family can’t return to Sri Lanka because they’ve been threatened by the criminal gangs who arranged their working visa to the UK.
He paid £26,000 to people in Sri Lanka for a full-time job offer to work as a carer at a British company – not the same one Mrs A applied for.
On induction day, Vinothan says he got a uniform but no paid work. He claims not to have been told before leaving Sri Lanka he would have to do unpaid training for an unspecified period of time.
As he is now in dispute with the company, his Certificate of Sponsorship to work in the UK has been withdrawn.
Wiping away tears, he explains that the money was his family’s entire life savings – after they sold everything, including land and jewellery.
“£26,000 is a very big amount for us from Sri Lanka. My grandfather’s and grandmother’s jewellery and three generations earned that. Now I don’t have anything. It’s all gone. [The criminal gangs in Sri Lanka] have cheated me.
“How can I get that back?”
Reporting by Lisa Holland and Nick Stylianou
Production by Megan Baynes
Edited by Serena Kutchinsky
Prince Harry in court: William’s prank call, strip club visit, and Chelsy Davy break-up – duke faces more questions from Mirror publisher’s lawyer
Prince Harry has answered questions about a prank voicemail left by his brother William, a visit to a strip club, and his break-up with Chelsy Davy, in his second day giving evidence at the High Court.
Harry was also asked if he would be “disappointed” should the court not find in his favour and decide details about his private life were not obtained by phone hacking by Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) journalists.
The Duke of Sussex said he would be “speculating”, but when pushed further he replied to say he would “feel some injustice”.
Harry told the court: “I believe that phone hacking was [done] on an industrial scale across at least three of the papers at the time… that is beyond any doubt.
“To have a decision against me and any of the other people [bringing a claim], given that Mirror Group have admitted hacking [in relation to other cases], yes it would feel like an injustice… if it wasn’t accepted.”
Andrew Green KC, representing MGN, then asked the duke: “So you want to have been phone hacked?”.
“Nobody wants to be phone hacked,” he replied.
In 2014, MGN admitted liability in four cases of phone hacking, and since then has settled dozens of claims, with stars including Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller. The publisher denies the allegations made by Harry.
Harry arrived outside the court’s Rolls Building in central London in a black Range Rover shortly before 10am, wearing a dark suit and silver tie, before entering the witness box again after nearly five hours of cross-examination on Tuesday.
His witness statement has also been released, containing the full details of all his allegations against MGN, publisher of the Daily Mirror and other titles – a lawsuit that makes him the first senior royal to give evidence in a UK court in more in than 100 years.
After resuming his questioning this morning, Mr Green asked Harry about an article headlined “Chel Shocked”, published in the People in 2006, which reports how his then girlfriend Ms Davy was angry about the royal allegedly receiving a lap dance during a night out with cadet friends.
In his witness statement, Harry said he does not remember Ms Davy being mad at him. “We did speak about it over the phone, but I promised her that I hadn’t had a lap dance and stayed with the three other cadets that had girlfriends,” he wrote.
Speaking in court, Harry said parts of the article were “factually incorrect” – including a reference to a “tall statuesque blonde” who bore a “striking resemblance” to Ms Davy.
Mr Green put it to Harry that many MGN stories included as part of his case contained information that was already available elsewhere, including in articles by rival news outlets.
One story published by the now defunct News Of The World at the time contained details of a voicemail left by Prince William to Harry, mimicking Ms Davy’s “high-pitched” accent, the barrister told the court – saying this was an “important step” to police arresting Clive Goodman, the then royal editor at the News Of The World, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, over royal phone hacking.
Harry said he was aware of this.
Mr Green also asked about an article headlined “Hooray Harry’s dumped” – which the duke said was “hurtful to say the least” and that “such a private moment was turned into a bit of a laugh”.
The barrister said the “Hooray” name had been used to describe the royal in previous stories and “was not celebrating the demise of your relationship.”
Pop star appears outside Harry court case
Before today’s evidence began, former East 17 star Brian Harvey turned up outside court, shouting about corruption.
He told Sky News that he too was a victim of phone hacking, and that the media is “a joke”.
During his first day in court, Harry criticised Piers Morgan, and said in his witness statement that he felt “physically sick” at the thought of the former Mirror editor and his “band of journalists” allegedly “earwigging” on his mother Princess Diana‘s messages.
Morgan later told Sky News he did not see any of Harry’s comments, but added: “I wish him luck with his privacy campaign and look forward to reading about it in his next book.”
As part of our special programmes on the case, Sky News is transcribing Harry’s evidence and recreating his court appearance with an actor.
The royal is suing MGN, attempting to prove that reporters for the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People titles were linked to methods including phone hacking, so-called “blagging” or gaining information by deception, and use of private investigators, between 1996 and 2010.
He claims about 140 articles contained information gathered using unlawful methods, and 33 of these have been selected to be considered at the trial.
MGN is contesting the claims and has either denied or not admitted each of them. The publisher also argues that some of the claimants have brought their legal action too late.
Duke was calm on day one – but there’s much more to come
Which articles have been brought up in the duke’s case?
The key people named in Prince Harry’s witness statement
As well as Harry, there are three other representative claimants involved in the case: Coronation Street actor Michael Turner, known professionally as Michael Le Vell, who is best known for playing Kevin Webster; Hollyoaks and former Coronation Street actress Nikki Sanderson; and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman.
They are representative of more than 100 claimants overall, including singer and TV star Cheryl, ex-footballer and pundit Ian Wright, and the estate of the late George Michael.
Harry In Court – watch special programme on Sky News tonight at 9pm
Cyber gang issues ultimatum to BBC, BA and Boots after hack
The gang thought to have carried out a cyber attack on companies including BA and Boots has given victims a deadline to negotiate or have the hacked information published online.
The suspected Russian group Clop, which claimed responsibility for the attack, issued the notice on the dark web to victims of the MOVEit software hack.
Personal data of more than 100,000 employees was accessed in the attack, including bank and contact details.
In a dark web blog post, Clop told victims to email and negotiate with the group by 14 June, the BBC reported.
The BBC itself was impacted by the attack, as was airline Aer Lingus.
More victims have emerged, including the University of Rochester in New York. The government of Nova Scotia in Canada also said it was subjected to the attack.
Clop has reportedly claimed it has deleted any data from government, city or police services, saying: “Do not worry, we erased your data you do not need to contact us. We have no interest to expose such information.”
Payroll software company Zellis – which used the MOVEit software that resulted in BA, BBC and Aer Lingus staff having their data accessed – said eight of its customers were hit but did not name them.
Other Zellis customers include Jaguar Land Rover, Harrods and Dyson.
Potentially hundreds of companies using the popular MOVEit business software may be impacted.
Origins of cyber attack ‘appear to have Russian links’ – analysis
A weak link in MOVEit code – a so-called zero day vulnerability – enabled hackers to access its servers and the personal and financial data of employees.
The group’s motivations are unclear so far. It claimed responsibility in an email to Reuters news agency on Monday.
A MOVEit spokesperson said: “Our customers have been, and will always be, our top priority. When we discovered the vulnerability, we promptly launched an investigation, alerted MOVEit customers about the issue and provided immediate mitigation steps.”
They added: “We are continuing to work with industry-leading cybersecurity experts to investigate the issue and ensure we take all appropriate response measures. We have engaged with federal law enforcement and other agencies with respect to the vulnerability.”
Boy, 14, dies after ‘playground incident’ at school in West Lothian
A 14-year-old boy has died following a playground incident between two pupils at a school in West Lothian, Sky News understands.
Emergency services were called to Kentigern’s Academy in Blackburn, West Lothian, on Tuesday afternoon.
The teenager, who has not yet been identified, was taken by ambulance to hospital for treatment but died a short time later.
Detectives met education authorities on Wednesday morning to discuss the pupil’s death, as other students continue to receive emotional support.
Police sources have said the incident was not part of an “online challenge” amid social media speculation within the community that it was a so-called “tap out” game.
Sky News understands there is “no criminality” involved, however Police Scotland has refused to comment as investigations continue.
A force spokesperson said: “Around 1.20pm on Tuesday 6 June 2023, officers were called to a report of concern for a 14-year-old boy at a school in the Bathgate area.
“He was taken by ambulance to hospital for treatment, but died a short time later.
“His family have been informed and enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances of the death.”
The school, where singer Lewis Capaldi was once a pupil, previously said there was an “isolated incident” within the grounds.
Headteacher Andrew Sharkey said: “We have set up ongoing emotional support and signposting for students and staff affected by this tragic news.
“We would like to respect the family’s privacy at this incredibly painful time.”
Mr Sharkey confirmed that the school was assisting the relevant authorities and would not be making any further comment at this time.
Local MSP Fiona Hyslop said: “My deepest condolences are with the family and friends of the pupil who has died. I hope those closest to him are given the privacy they deserve at this tragic time.
“This will be an incredibly difficult time for everyone – not least the pupils, teachers and staff at St Kentigern’s Academy.
“The support being offered at the school will be crucially important right now – and, in my capacity as their MSP, I will do everything I can to help the community through this awful situation.”
West Lothian councillors Jim Dickson and Mary Dickson said they were “devastated” along with the community over the schoolboy’s death.
They added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends.”
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