Published: 28 May, 2009
INTERNATIONALLY renowned Canadian singer Allison Crowe, on her way to stay with friends in North-West Sutherland last week, was held for 11 hours at Gatwick Airport in London by immigration officials – and then deported back home.
And all because she and fellow band members had failed to obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship from venues they were due to play at, a little-known visa requirement following legislation brought in last November to combat illegal immigration and terrorism.
Allison (27) has appeared for the past two years at gigs in Durness, initially at the John Lennon Northern Lights Festival and last year at a follow-up concert.
It was in 2007 that she first met Durrant Macleod of Achmelvich, secretary of North Highland Tourism, promoters of the John Lennon Festival. He and his wife Maisie soon became friends with the singer after ferrying them between Durness and the Rhiconich Hotel and other venues.
Last year Durrant collected Allison and guitarist Billie Woods from Inverness to drive them to Durness, and they have been in regular contact since. Last week they and other band members were due to stay with Durrant and Maisie for a short break before appearing at The Halo in London and The Lot in Edinburgh.
Allison and Billie and drummer Laurent Boucher flew into Gatwick on Tuesday last week, but were immediately seized by immigration officers and asked for their Certificate of Sponsorship. When they were unable to produce one, they were held in what was described as a cage for 11 hours.
Allison's agent, Adrian du Plessis, told Mr Macleod: "They were all finger-printed and had their passports confiscated.
"They were shut in a room where they were denied contact with the outside world for six hours. They were told their passports would be stamped 'barred from entry'."
After 11 hours' interrogation, the three were released but told to return on Friday when they were deported back to Canada.
A fourth band member, bassist Dave Baird, was allowed entry as he holds dual British and Canadian citizenship.
Spokesmen for both The Halo and The Lot said they knew nothing about the new legislation and that artists from overseas had previously performed for them since November and had experienced no problems.
On The Lot's website for 23rd May, when Allison was due to appear, a notice says: "Due to very unfortunate unfair circumstances, Allison is unable to perform at The Lot this year. We are extremely sorry for any inconvenience this may cause."
Said Durrant Macleod: "Since our first meeting we have been planning to get Allison to visit Achmelvich as our guests, and this time it was going to happen – until they fell foul of a new and virtually secret regulation, all to do with protecting British workers by throwing artists in a cage and then back to their point of departure.
"The problem is the way that they were treated, especially initially by one particular immigration officer, and the 11 hours in a cage, and the interrogation as if they were terrorists, all because British venues had not registered to a new and unknown law.
"When Adrian approached German authorities to enquire as to what her position would be on her travelling to Frankfurt on the next stage of her tour, he was told they were horrified at the British treatment and Allison would be welcomed with open arms in Germany. Adrian was given the phone number of the German border control at Frankfurt Airport and told to contact them 24/7 should Allison have any trouble at all entering Germany.
"Allison and her friends arrived in Germany this week with no problems whatsoever. Adrian has said it may deter artists from coming to Britain. He cannot believe that Allison is a Commonwealth citizen and was treated this way, like a criminal.
"I am currently assembling an accurate account of all the happenings, and then intend to bring it to the attention of various people and organisations."
John Thurso, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, told the NT this week: "Since last November, when this rule was brought in, I have dealt with several cases of performers who have been refused entry to the UK, although I have been successful after appeals to ministers in getting some in temporarily.
"The rule itself is an affront to the great British tradition of welcoming overseas artists and another example of this government's unyielding zeal for mindless regulation. Security is important, but throwing international performers into a lock-up and being rude to them should be no part of it."
The case will sound alarm bells among organisers of local events where overseas artists perform.
According to the Home Office there has been a national advertising campaign alerting people to the new law and wide consultation with arts organisations in the UK, but Lily Byron of the Rosehall Arts committee laughed at that suggestion.
"I certainly know nothing about this and we have quite a few overseas people playing in Rosehall," she said this week.
Lorna Sawyer, chairman of the Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, told the NT: "I am astounded. We never knew anything about this, but if it's all true then it could have serious implications for venues throughout the Highlands. We have definitely not been consulted."