Shock and disbelief over Norfolk-born world champ’s visa bombshell

Squash player Cassie Jackman with her British Championship trophy on the Barnham Broom squash courts

Squash player Cassie Jackman with her British Championship trophy on the Barnham Broom squash courts.Date : 20/02/2004Photo: Nick ButcherCopy : SportFor. EDP /Sport©EDP pics 2004 tel (01603) 772434 - Credit: EDP / Archant © 2004

Leading sports coaches and friends of a former world squash champion have spoken of their disbelief that immigration rules mean she cannot come home to her native Norfolk from Australia without splitting her family.

 Matt and CassieThomas (nee Jackman) with their daughters Erin, nine, and Lola, five

Matt and CassieThomas (nee Jackman) with their daughters Erin, nine, and Lola, five - Credit: Archant

North Walsham-born Cassie Jackman, 42, wants to return to live in Norfolk with her Australian husband Matt Thomas and their two Norfolk-born daughters.

But, as the EDP reported yesterday, Mr Thomas, 40, who lived and worked in England for about 10 years before the family moved to Australia in 2010, has been refused a visa – although the couple own a house in Horsford and Mr Thomas has a guaranteed job in Saham Toney, near Watton.

National squash coach Malcolm Willstrop was instrumental in helping Mrs Thomas, née Jackman, reach world-class level. He remembers her, on the squash courts at Rossi's leisure centre, in North Walsham, as a determined, focused player.

'I am astounded that a world number one who could offer so much to her country if she got back into coaching here, can't because her husband has had his visa refused,' he said. 'Australia is a Commonwealth country – they fought with us in the war – this is all wrong.'

Alex Cowie, former England ladies' and juniors' squash team manager, based at Barnham Broom, also coached the young Cassie.

She said: 'It's disgraceful – I am lost for words. She's a great girl. It's not as if they are going to come and sponge on Britain.'

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Mr Thomas first met his future wife while playing for Saham Toney Cricket Club where chairman and captain Simon Mower said he was 'gutted' at the news.

Mr Thomas, one of his best friends, had worked for the Mowers' family firm, Trell, in the village and had a guaranteed job there when he came back to England.

'He gave a lot of his time voluntarily to be our club coach. He's a spot-on, hard-working bloke who has done his bit for everybody,' said Mr Mower.

Mrs Thomas, speaking from the family home in Melbourne, said they had been overwhelmed by messages of support since yesterday's story in the EDP. She said they were among thousands of families affected by the rules. The rejection had been a real 'kick in the teeth' for her husband.

'He's never claimed a penny in his life but he feels as if he's not wanted in Britain,' she added.

? Matthew Thomas applied for a visa to the UK as a Returning Resident.

He had been given 'indefinite leave to remain' in Britain in April 2006 following his marriage, but the family left for Australia in October 2010.

After deciding they wanted to return, Mr Thomas filled in the necessary forms and handed over a non-returnable £250 fee, thinking that approval would be straightforward.

He made it clear that they owned a home in Norfolk, that he had a job waiting for him, and that his wife and children were British.

The family had spent Christmas with Mrs Thomas's family in North Walsham, leaving winter clothes and presents behind because they were so sure they would be home for good this month.

But a return letter from UK Visas and Immigration was sent from Manila, in the Philippines. It was stamped 'Refusal of Entry Clearance.'

The letter said: 'You will have lived outside of the UK for four-and-a-half years. I am satisfied you have been outside the UK for over two years and do not qualify under paragraph 18 (ii) of HC395.'

The writer added that they had considered Mr Thomas's family reasons for wanting to return, but said: 'I am not satisfied they are of a nature that warrants the issue of a visa under the exceptions of the two year rule.' The EDP asked a Home Office spokesman to explain the rule. He said: 'The refusal letter sets out the reasons for refusal.'

Mrs Thomas said: 'You send all your life's information to someone you have never met, in Manila, and they have the power to take your money, and this huge decision about your future. It's a ridiculous process.'