Villagers rally over expulsion decision

STEPHEN PULLINGER Norfolk villagers were last night rallying behind a popular holiday park manager left reeling by a Home Office decision to expel his American-born wife and 13-year-old step-daughter from Britain within 28 days.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Villagers were last night rallying behind a popular holiday park manager who was left reeling by a Home Office decision to expel his American-born wife and 13-year-old stepdaughter from Britain within 28 days.

Appealing for help through the EDP, Richard Thorpe said they were only faced with the heart-breaking separation because he and his wife, Tonya, had failed to thoroughly check her visa when they finished living and working in Saudi Arabia and came back to Britain to settle in Hopton, near Yarmouth, in 2003.

Mr Thorpe, 44, the site manager at Hopton Holiday Village, said: "As we had been married since 1996, we wrongly assumed the British Embassy in Riyadh had given her a visa for permanent residence. It was only when we returned through the airport from a holiday in Cyprus in February this year that an immigration officer noticed it was a two-year visa that had expired in 2005. We had been abroad twice the previous year, to Cyprus and the US, and it was not picked up on either of those occasions."

Mr Thorpe said he and his wife, a waitress, had immediately submitted papers to the immigration department for a permanent residence visa, but on May 21, they received the shocking news their application had been declined.

He said: "We have been advised by a barrister that an appeal would be unlikely to succeed, but I don't want my family split by my wife having to go back to Texas to stay with her parents with my step-daughter Morgan and our two-year-old daughter Kasie, who was born in Gorleston's James Paget Hospital.

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"We have been told that when my wife applies for a new visa in the US, it could take anytime between five days and three months for the application to be resolved - and there is no guarantee then that it will be accepted.

"I know we should have checked the original visa, but I am hoping common sense can prevail, especially given the special relationship between Britain and the US. We have always supported ourselves and never claimed anything off the state."

He said Morgan, 13, was a good student and now faced having her education at Gorleston's Cliff Park High School disrupted at least until the new academic year - she was also upset at having to cancel a netball trip to Spain with the school because she would not have been let back in the country.

Mr Thorpe met his wife when he was working as a development manager for a supermarket chain in Riyadh and she was working at a hairdressers'.

The couple have appealed to Yarmouth MP Tony Wright to help, and last night he promised to meet them this week and take up their case with the Home Office minister.

Vowing to lend his personal support, Hopton Parish Council chairman Mike Butcher described Mr Thorpe as a well-known and popular figure in the village.

He said: "It is absolutely crazy they have got caught up in regulations which were designed to stop marriages of convenience, not separate happy families."

A Home Office spokesman last night confirmed that when a foreign national outstayed their visa it was necessary to return to their home country to apply for a new one.

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