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“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.

Hinthujan is fearful and lonely
Hinthujan is now in Liverpool

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’.”

He is now claiming asylum
He is now claiming asylum

‘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.”

A fake document showing Mrs A had a 'very good pass' in an English language exam
A fake document showing Mrs A had a ‘very good pass’ in an English language exam

The documents

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.

Mrs A
Mrs A thought she was buying a safe and legal route into the UK

‘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.

Vinothan’s family sold their life savings to send him to the UK

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

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‘Invincible’ all-girl football team goes whole season unbeaten – in boys’ league




'Invincible' all-girl football team goes whole season unbeaten - in boys' league

An all-girl team has become football’s latest “invincibles” by going unbeaten all season – while playing in a boys’ league.

Queens Park Ladies under-12s finished top of division three of the Bournemouth Youth Football League, with 18 wins, four draws and no defeats.

They dominated the 11 boys’ teams in the league, scoring 61 goals and conceding only 11.

By the time they had played all their matches, they had amassed 58 points, 16 more than the second-placed team, which had two games still to play.

To make their triumph all the sweeter, they had to overcome initial resistance from county FA bosses, who initially told them they would have to play in a girls’ competition.

Pic: Queens Park Ladies
The under-12s team celebrates winning the league. Pic: Queens Park Ladies

Manager Toby Green was convinced his team was good enough to play against boys every week and the players, who train twice a week, have proved him right on the pitch.

Next season, the girls will be promoted to the under-13s second division.

They topped the league away against Moordown & Southbourne several weeks ago but clinched the “invincibles” title last weekend with a 3-0 win against Lymington Town.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Green said: “The girls have done really, really well. They’ve worked so hard all season, not just in the games, but in their training as well.

“They have been really disciplined… they deserve it.”

Pic: Queens Park Ladies
Pic: Queens Park Ladies

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Mr Green said securing the league title with a 3-0 away win against a team that had won six games in a row was one of the highlights of the season.

“We’ve really had to dig in, particularly away from home,” he said.

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Four of the girls in the 14-strong squad have been playing together since they were five years old.

Mr Green started the team when his daughter Olivia told him she wanted to play football. He had already coached his older daughter as the only girl in a boys’ team and decided this time he would put together a girls’ team, but wanted them to play in the boys’ league.

The team hopes to inspire more young girls to get involved in football.

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‘Give us a future’: Anger as residents still not back in homes six months after Storm Babet




'Give us a future': Anger as residents still not back in homes six months after Storm Babet

It’s been six months since Storm Babet battered the UK but many communities are still picking up the pieces.

The storm, which hit last October, caused devastating flooding, widespread power cuts and left seven people dead.

In Catcliffe, a village near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, more than 200 homes were evacuated when water levels reached over six feet high.

And while the water has gone, its impact is still being felt.

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October 2023: Storm Babet submerged hundreds of homes

The residents of Sheffield Lane were among those forced to flee – and most of them still aren’t back in their homes.

Instead, they’re still staying with family or living in hotels while they wait for their properties to be repaired.

Chris Lloyd was led to safety in a raft by firefighters when his home became submerged by fast-rising waters. His property was so badly damaged that he won’t be back in it until June.

He says flood-hit communities feel totally forgotten.

Catcliffe resident Chris Lloyd
Catcliffe resident Chris Lloyd

“Do something, tell us something,” he says in a message to authorities.

“Give us something to reduce the amount of water that could potentially come in. I’ve said it a million times, but try and give the people of Catcliffe a future.”

Across the road at Jack’s Theatre School, the Saturday morning toddler group is oblivious to the stress and strain caused by the storm.

It took weeks for the historic building to dry out and the school relied on the help of dozens of volunteers to clean up the dirt and debris before they could return to the premises in February.

Flood damage in Catcliffe last October . Pic: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Flood damage in Catcliffe last October. Pic: PA

For staff and students, the show must go on, but there’s always the worry this could happen again.

Teacher Mia Mottram says: “Every time there’s heavy rain, I’m sat at home thinking I hope it’s not raining in Catcliffe because if it’s heavy again… it’s awful having to think like that.

“We know a lot of the children on this road and it was heartbreaking to think it was their homes that had been destroyed.”

There are concerns the UK is lagging behind when it comes to proactive steps to protect people and homes from extreme rainfall.

Baroness Brown, deputy chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change, says: “I don’t know how much more of a wakeup call we need from the climate.”

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All-girl football team goes whole season unbeaten – in boys’ league

Flooding minister Robbie Moore has called for local authorities to be careful when considering housing applications and make sure homes aren’t being built on floodplains.

“From my point of view, I want to be making sure the government… is putting as much money as possible into flood alleviation measures,” he says.

Meanwhile, communities such as the one in Catcliffe are trying to rebuild their homes and lives – all while fearing they won’t be properly protected when the next storm arrives.

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Former model almost died trying to cure cancer with juice diet




Former model almost died trying to cure cancer with juice diet

A former model who almost died trying to cure her cancer with a juice diet has warned others against “cutting out” traditional medical advice and trying to source alternative information online.

Irena Stoynova forked out £2,000 on juicers and would spend up to three hours a day preparing liquid meals for the next day, believing it would clear her of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The 39-year-old was diagnosed in June 2021 when medics recommended that she receive conventional treatment, but she “shut them out” after watching people “talk about the success rate of alternative therapies online”.

Ms Stoynova was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma  in June 2021. Pic: PA
Ms Stoynova was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June 2021. Pic: PA

Ms Stoynova, from Crondall in Hampshire, said she took to a juice diet for two-and-a-half years, but also tried a raw-food diet, intermittent fasting, boiling herbs and special teas.

She said that she was advised to start chemotherapy, but she turned to the internet to find alternative advice and “everything started from there”.

She said she listened to one man with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media who claimed the body could “heal itself” through a radical lifestyle and diet change.

Ms Stoynova lost 20kg as a result of her holistic approach to cancer. Pic: PA
Ms Stoynova said she lost 20 kilograms as a result of her holistic approach to cancer. Pic: PA

Ms Stoynova said she became a “fanatic” of the various diets and holistic therapies she followed, adding: “It was like tunnel vision.

“I didn’t stop, I was just so weak, I had sleep deprivation and hallucinations. I didn’t even have the strength to open the door for the delivery man.

“I couldn’t breathe because there was fluid on my lungs, I lost about 20 kilograms because of the dieting.”

Read more:
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Doctors said Ms Stoynova was on the verge of death when she was taken to Frimley Park Hospital by ambulance in May last year.

She was told by doctors she would likely die without treatment for her cancer – which was stage three – but Ms Stoynova continued to refuse for a number of days before finally agreeing to receive chemotherapy.

Medics described “frustrating” conversations with her but eventually, after 10 days in hospital, she agreed to start chemotherapy.

The 39-year-old did a juice diet for two-and-a-half years, but also tried a raw diet, intermittent fasting, boiling herbs and special teas. Pic: PA
Ms Stoynova is now in remission after having chemotherapy. Pic: PA

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Ms Stoynova, who is now in remission, added: “I now say to people that the side effects from chemotherapy are a piece of cake compared to the side effects that I got from trying the holistic treatment.”

She added: “What I would say is it’s great to have beliefs, it’s great if they’re backed by science, and please don’t cut off your consultants.

“I cut off consultants and everything connected with standard medicine and I almost lost my life.”

Dr Clare Rees, consultant haematologist at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This is an extreme scenario and genuinely in the first 24 hours of Irena’s admission, I was unclear whether she would survive this or not.

“But the problem is that misinformation often spreads faster than the truth and obviously, if someone’s given the option of juice versus tablets or chemotherapy and injecting drugs into their bodies, you can see why they would prefer to do some of it if it will give them the same outcome – but the problem is that is not evidence-based practice.

“We always encourage people to go to Lymphoma Action or Macmillan Cancer Support for genuine information.”

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