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Vanessa Redgrave gives £4,000 to Bibby Stockholm legal fight

Vanessa Redgrave has donated thousands of pounds to a legal fund challenging the Home Office’s use of the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge to accommodate asylum seekers.

The actor and human rights campaigner has been an outspoken critic of the government’s policy to house asylum seekers on the barge in Portland, Dorset.

The Bibby Stockholm has been empty since 11 August when asylum seekers were evacuated after spending just four days there following the discovery of deadly legionella bacteria.

The mayor of Portland, Carralyn Parkes, is bringing a legal challenge against the barge being used as asylum accommodation, arguing the Home Office has breached planning rules.

She set up a Crowdjustice page to fund the legal fees for the current stage of the case with a target of £25,000. More than 900 people have donated money to the page but Redgrave’s £4,000 donation enabled the fund to reach its target.

“I’m particularly grateful to a large donation from Dame Vanessa Redgrave, a longstanding activist and defender of refugee rights, who got us across the £25,000 line. It’s just incredible to get support from somebody who has got such a long track record of campaigning for human rights,” said Parkes.

The case will be in the high court on 10 October 2023 for a permission hearing. The judge will decide whether the case is “arguable” and if it should proceed to a full judicial review.

In a letter to the Financial Times about the “appalling Bibby Stockholm”, Redgrave, 86, spoke of the first time she learned about the “horrendous British prison ships and the British penal system of the 1850s” when she was taken to see the film of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and read the book at the age of eight. She then compared the Bibby Stockholm barge with those prison ships.

“Is today’s treatment of asylum seekers, housing them in a barge, cruel? Yes. Inhuman? Yes. Illegal? I hope it will be found to be so and believe it would be under international human rights law. A fire hazard? I fear so. A virtual prison. Yes,” she wrote.

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On 8 September, Parkes asked the high court to declare that the Home Office’s decision to use the Bibby Stockholm barge as asylum accommodation constitutes “development” for the purposes of planning law.

This would mean that planning permission should have been applied for. And, since it was not, she has claimed that this is a potential breach of planning control and could be subject to enforcement by Dorset council.

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