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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
Image:
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
Image:
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
Image:
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
Image:
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
Image:
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
Production by Nick Stylianou and Megan Baynes
Edited by Serena Kutchinsky

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Bardia Shojaeifard: Boy, 15, jailed for murder of Alfie Lewis in knife attack outside school in Leeds

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Bardia Shojaeifard: Boy, 15, jailed for murder of Alfie Lewis in knife attack outside school in Leeds

A 15-year-old boy who had a “worrying interest in knives” has been jailed for life – with a minimum of 13 years behind bars – for stabbing another teenager to death on the way home from school.

Bardia Shojaeifard was named for the first time today by a judge shortly before he was sentenced for the murder of Alfie Lewis, also 15.

Alfie was stabbed to death in front of pupils leaving a primary school in the Horsforth area of Leeds last November.

The court heard Shojaeifard – who was 14 at the time of the murder – was an “outwardly normal” boy.

He admitted stabbing Alfie with a 13cm-long knife he had brought from home, but denied murder and claimed he was acting in self-defence when he pulled out the blade.

Alfie Lewis
Image:
Alfie Lewis

Shojaeifard was found guilty of murdering Alfie by a Leeds Crown Court jury in April.

Mr Justice Cotter removed reporting restrictions that prevented him from being identified on Friday.

He said lifting the defendant’s anonymity would help in the “vitally important debate about the scourge of knife crime, among young people in particular”.

A picture recovered from the phone of Bardia Shojaeifard shows him posing with a knife.
Pic: West Yorkshire Police
Image:
A picture recovered from the phone of Bardia Shojaeifard shows him posing with a knife. Pic: West Yorkshire Police

A picture recovered from the phone of Bardia Shojaeifard shows him posing with a knife.
Pic: West Yorkshire Police
Image:
Pic: West Yorkshire Police

Mr Justice Cotter said the public would be wondering how a young boy “from a loving and supportive family” could commit such an “extraordinary” crime “without forewarning or any warning signs save for some pictures of knives on his phone”.

Alfie was stabbed twice – with a chest wound penetrating his heart and causing “catastrophic bleeding”, West Yorkshire Police said.

He was pronounced dead in hospital a short time later.

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Eyewitnesses had said Shojaeifard had approached Alfie and attacked him without provocation – with the victim trying to back away.

Alfie was heard saying “chill out” and “what are you doing?” as Shojaeifard swung at him with the knife.

The attacker later ran off and left the knife near the scene, and was arrested at his home about an hour later.

Detectives believe Shojaeifard had been carrying the kitchen knife all day, and had intended to seek Alfie at home time.

Leeds Crown Court had heard that there had been two previous incidents involving both boys – including one last July that saw Alfie intervene in a fight Shojaeifard was having with another boy.

A week before the deadly attack – on Halloween – Shojaeifard had walked past Alfie’s house with a bag of fireworks, prompting Alfie to say to him: “Give me the bag or something worse than last time is going to happen.”

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From May: Alfie’s brother thanks jury

Following the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Stacey Atkinson said: “Shojaeifard targeted Alfie in a premeditated and planned attack using murderous violence to end his young life, for which there can be no excuse or justification.

“His actions have robbed Alfie of his future and left his family and friends absolutely devastated. No sentence will ever compensate them for their loss.”

Alfie’s mother Heather Lane addressed Shojaeifard directly as she read her victim impact statement in court.

“No sentence will ever be enough for what you have done. I will never, ever forgive you,” she said.

Ms Lane sobbed as she said: “Alfie was my heart and when he was stabbed in the heart it killed me too.”

Alfie’s older brother Antony described him as a “loving and caring little mate” who “never deserved what happened to him”.

Mr Justice Cotter told Shojaeifard: “He had a long life ahead of him and you took that away.

“Knives have stolen so many lives, and you and others must understand how dangerous this obsession is.

“Without your interest in knives, Alfie would be here today.”

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UK weather: Heatwave could hit next week – but there’s a big catch for hayfever sufferers thanks to ‘pollen bomb’

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UK weather: Heatwave could hit next week - but there's a big catch for hayfever sufferers thanks to 'pollen bomb'

High levels of pollen are striking parts of the UK – bringing fresh misery for hayfever sufferers – with forecasts suggesting there could be a heatwave next week.

The Met Office has warned the pollen count will be very high in England for the next five days, extending to Wales and Northern Ireland from Saturday onwards.

By Monday, all but the northernmost parts of Scotland will be affected.

Pic: Met Office
Image:
Pic: Met Office

Asthma + Lung UK is urging people with respiratory conditions to take precautions in the week ahead.

The charity’s research suggests pollen is a trigger for 47% of people with asthma, and 27% of those who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also known as COPD).

This can cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing, a tight chest and breathlessness to flare up.

Erika Radford, the organisation’s head of health advice, told Sky News: “When pollen particles are breathed in, they can cause inflammation in the airways and get into the lungs, making it harder for those with lung conditions to breathe. This can be terrifying.”

Asthma sufferers have been urged to use their preventer inhaler every day as prescribed, and keep a reliever inhaler nearby at all times – even when at home.

Britons who suffer from hayfever can take antihistamines, ask their GP to prescribe a steroid nasal spray, and avoid going outside as much as possible on high pollen days.

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UK heatwaves: ‘A silent killer’

Other top tips for beating the pollen include:

• Not hanging your washing outdoors

• Having a shower when you’ve been outside

• Keeping windows and doors closed

• Vacuuming and wiping down surfaces regularly

• Taking antihistamines four weeks before symptoms start.

Eating apples and red onions has also been touted as a way of lowering histamine levels.

Pic: Met Office
Image:
Pic: Met Office

Heatwave on the horizon

Meanwhile, the Met Office is forecasting higher temperatures as we head into next week – with 30C (86F) possible in isolated spots.

While Friday and Saturday are looking less settled, fine conditions are set to return on Sunday, and temperatures could be in the mid-20s for many in the days that follow.

Check the five-day weather forecast where you are

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Chief forecaster Neil Armstrong said: “Some central and southern areas are likely to see temperatures approaching the values needed for heatwave conditions.

“Heatwave conditions need to remain in situ for three consecutive days, and by the middle of next week it is possible that some parts of the UK could be reaching heatwave thresholds.”

He anticipates “the finest conditions and highest temperatures so far this year” – but lower overnight temperatures are set to offer some respite for those who struggle with the heat.

Sky meteorologist Steff Gaulter added: “We’ve a plume of hot, humid air coming up from the south which will start to affect us from Sunday.

“This will bring a fair amount of cloud for some places, but in the sunniest spots we’re likely to see temperatures of 27C on Sunday, 28C Monday and 29C on Tuesday and Wednesday. This might be a bit of a shock to some people after the rather lacklustre start to summer we’ve had so far!

“We’re not all going to see these temperatures though and there will be some rain affecting the western parts. The highest temperatures look most likely in central and eastern England.

“Then on Wednesday, it looks like we’ll see a thundery breakdown, but in weather terms this is still a long way off, so we’ll have to keep you posted on that.”

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NHS cyber attack: Sensitive data stolen from blood test provider by criminal group ‘published online’

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NHS cyber attack: Sensitive data stolen from blood test provider by criminal group 'published online'

Sensitive data stolen from an NHS provider in a cyber attack has apparently been published online.

NHS England says a criminal group claims it has released patient information hacked from Synnovis, which provides pathology services on blood tests.

Synnovis, which provides services primarily in southeast London, was the victim of a ransomware attack, understood to be carried out by Russian group Qilin, on 3 June.

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In a statement on Friday morning, NHS England said: “NHS England has been made aware that the cyber criminal group published data last night which they are claiming belongs to Synnovis and was stolen as part of this attack.

“We understand that people may be concerned by this and we are continuing to work with Synnovis, the National Cyber Security Centre and other partners to determine the content of the published files as quickly as possible.

“This includes whether it is data extracted from the Synnovis system, and if so whether it relates to NHS patients.

“As more information becomes available through Synnovis’ full investigation, the NHS will continue to update patients and the public.”

The cyber criminal group shared almost 400GB of data – including patient names, dates of birth, NHS numbers and descriptions of blood tests – on their darknet site and Telegram channel, the BBC said.

Spreadsheets containing financial arrangements between hospitals and GP services and Synnovis were also published, the BBC reported.

Synnovis said in a statement on Friday morning: “We know how worrying this development may be for many people. We are taking it very seriously and an analysis of this data is already under way.”

More than 320 planned operations and 1,294 outpatient appointments were postponed at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust between 10 and 16 June, the second week after the attack.

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Since the first week after the attack (3 to 9 June), the number of rearranged planned operations has gone down by 494, but a further 394 outpatient appointments have been missed.

So far, the data theft has led to more than 1,100 planned operations and 2,100 outpatient appointments to be postponed, according to NHS England London figures.

Urgent and emergency services have remained available as usual.

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