Palace-of-Westminster-view above themse

An illegal immigrant worked at the House of Commons for two months before security staff noticed that she had simply glued a photo of herself onto a fake Swedish passport. But she has been handed a suspended sentence in court as the judge ruled she faked the passport “for honourable reasons.”

Sierra Leonian Adeyemi Zubairu earned less than £600 during her employment at the Dispatch Box Café, where she served coffee to ministers, Members of Parliament and their guests. She secured the job through an external employment agency, she says in desperation because her aunt in Sierra Leone had contracted Ebola and needed money for treatment, the Daily Mail has reported.

Zubairu first came to the UK in 2007 on a student visa that expired in 2010, but overstayed. In January 2014 she married a Dutch national in a ‘proxy’ wedding in Sierra Leone which neither party attended. On February 10th of this year she was granted leave to remain in the UK indefinitely, despite the looming court case over her faked documents.

Unusually, Zubairu was able to give evidence at her sentencing. The court heard how she had to give up her legitimate Sierra Leonean passport as part of the application process six months before the hearing date. When her aunt, who was also the sole carer for Zubairu’s 13-year-old sister, fell sick, she was desperate for cash. “I didn’t care what job it was, all I wanted was something to earn some money,” she said.

A friend, also from Sierra Leone, gave her a passport and told her that she had registered to work with an agency under the false name Josephine Gibson. Zubairu phoned the agency using the name Gibson, and was offered the work at Westminster. Together with her friend, Zubairu then doctored the passport, gluing a photograph of herself into it.

Prosecutor Peter Zinner told Southwark Crown Court: “This is a case of using a false identity document with intent. It was an audacious application for work because the passport was a crude forgery – as it subsequently transpired that the defendant’s photograph had been merely glued over the genuine owner of the passport’s picture.

“This was discovered by security staff at the Palace of Westminster when in January this year – and the defendant had already been working in the Palace of Westminster for about two months – she had to present proof at the office in order to obtain a high-level security pass and in so doing she presented evidence of her identity initially as Josephine Gibson by presenting a Barclays bank statement in that name.”

It was then that a “hesitant” and “reluctant” Zubairu handed over the false passport. The Home Office examined the document and found 32 “areas of irregularity”, including the glued photograph.

“It was a forgery of a Swedish passport that the defendant appears to have obtained and then further forged,”  Mr Zinner said. “At the time of her offending she was an illegal over stayer, not entitled to work and clearly it was a serious breach of security at the Palace of Westminster.”

But her defence lawyer Sarah Vine said Zubairu had only been caught out when a member of the security team who didn’t recognise her face. She argued that Zubairu had been motivated by concern for her sister, left helpless in Sierra Leone after the death of their aunt.

“She didn’t go home because obviously things in Sierra Leone are extremely difficult,” Ms Vine told the court. “The country, even before being hit by the Ebola epidemic, was and continues to be in a state of, if I characterise it as disrepair after the war that would be an understatement. She felt she would be better placed here with member of the Sierra Leonean community.”

Judge Nicolas Loraine-Smith, ruling on the case, said “Those who use counterfeit passports to evade immigration rules in this country in this country go to prison for 12 to 18 months at least and those who use them to evade employment strictures for six to 12 months. I think this is one of those cases where I can be merciful and suspend the sentence.

“You are an over-stayer, you came to this country in 2008 as a student, your visa expired in 2010, you married in 2014 and applied for leave to remain – that leave as it happens has now been granted.

“You were allowed to work for six months while your application for leave was considered and as part of that application you surrendered your valid Sierra Leonean passport which meant that you didn’t have it in your possession.

“You have a young sister in Sierra Leone and she was looked after by your aunt. Tragically your aunt fell ill from Ebola and obviously required treatment. That treatment cost money. She died on 30 October and I have seen the certificate.

“You are not a person, I think for one moment, who naturally would commit a criminal offence but it was a criminal offence that you committed – a serious criminal offence. But I am satisfied you did so for honourable reasons.”

Zubairu was handed a six month sentence suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work within 12 months, in what was judged to be “an exceptional case”.