Following an early morning raid on a house in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, on Tuesday 6th June 2006, 23 year old Sakchai Makao from Lerwick was detained by at least 5 police officers and immigration officials operating directly from the Scottish mainland and detained under the UK Immigration Act, apparently as part of a recent Home Office initiative to deport ‘foreign nationals’ living in Britain who have a criminal record.
Sakchai has lived and grown up in Shetland since moving here with his family to the islands at the age of 10 – a period of thirteen years. Although he holds a Thai passport he is also the holder of a current visa that states he may have residency in the UK for an indefinite period.
As a 16 year old school leaver he secured a job with Shetland Recreational Trust as a pool attendant in the Clickimin Leisure Complex in Lerwick, where he was viewed as a very valuable employee from the outset.
Since those early years he has also proved to be a highly capable athlete, competing for Shetland at county level and being ‘capped’ for Scotland at international level.
In 2003 he was arrested and charged with “wilful fire-raising” and, in early 2004, sentenced to 15 months in jail. His conviction related to the setting fire of a portable building and a car in a dockside area of Lerwick.
At the time Sakchai was suffering from the consequences of serious personal difficulties and this was recognised by the court, who also took note of the fact that his actions were “a moment of madness” which even the Procurator Fiscal accepted was “totally out of character”. Up until this time he had been viewed as a model citizen, having had no previous convictions of any kind.
Sakchai plead guilty to the charge, he did not play down his culpability, and turned down the option of an appeal, choosing instead to accept the sentence handed down by the court (which many considered excessive for a first offence) and his fate with dignity and humility. He ultimately served 8 months in detention and was released, back into the Shetland community in August 2004 and was noted by the authorities as being a “model prisoner” throughout his confinement.
At no time during his trial or confinement (or indeed subsequent to that) was deportation intimated to him as a possibility or a consequence of his actions.
In October of that year he regained his job as pool attendant with the local Recreational Trust, such was his personal standing with that organisation, and their acceptance that he was indeed highly unlikely to re-offend.
Given that no-one in the community condoned the actions that led to his conviction, and given we also tried to understand the personal problems he was undergoing at the time and relate those to his crime, most were more than willing to offer him a second chance within the community in that respect.
Since then Sakchai has proved to everyone that this faith was more than justified and if jail is indeed a ‘corrective institution and process’ as the authorities claim, that he should be held as a shining example of what a custodial sentence is meant to achieve, not be persecuted further. He is highly valued by his employers and loved and appreciated by all who know him within the Shetland community. On 20 June 2006, Sakchai was freed on bail pending a hearing on 7 July. On 7 July, Sakchai's appeal was upheld and he returned to Shetland. The Home Office has not indicated if it will appeal this decision, but is likely to decide this once the written decision has been published.
Sakchai Makao has now returned home to Shetland, after winning his appeal against deportation back to his native Thailand. Sakchai received strong support from the local Shetland Community, with over 8,000 people signing a petition for him to stay. Sakchai wishes for his life to get back to normal now.
The Shetland For Sakchai campaign has since won two national awards.
- Jake Davis, another Shetland teenager, who has had a campaign to free him.