Priti Patel’s controversial asylum scheme for the dilapidated Napier Barracks in Folkestone has been ruled illegal. The Home Secretary has granted himself a five-year extension to house refugees at the site – where hundreds are sleeping 14 in a dormitory.

But a judge ruled on Friday that the plan violated the Equality Act, designed to protect people from discrimination. It was the second time Ms Patel’s plans for Napier had been ruled illegal.

In June last year, transfers there were temporarily halted after the High Court ruled the selection process was unlawful. Another defeat came in March this year, when she lost a High Court challenge brought by three asylum seekers after they admitted their phones had been unlawfully seized under a blanket policy targeting those crossing the Channel.

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Napier Barracks was originally loaned by the MoD in September 2020 to help deal with a backlog caused by COVID. But Madam Justice Lieven pointed to potential victimization and harassment, as well as tensions with the local community once the program is extended until 2026.

Napier divided opinion. Far-right groups opposing the presence of asylum seekers demonstrated outside the camp. Others expressed concern about the welfare of the refugees – and the impact on the community.

Living conditions have often been questioned on the site. And some have even called for Napier Barracks to stop being used as a place of accommodation for refugees because of the treatment given to people who enter.

A view of Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, which is used by the government to house asylum seekers in the UK. Picture date: Sunday January 16, 2022.

Activists who funded £40,000 to mount the legal challenge against Ms Patel tonight hailed it a victory. Organizer Sally Hough, who lives in Folkestone and helps migrants with legal and social issues, said: “I am delighted. The judgment justifies the concerns of local people and camp residents.

“The judge came to the same view as us – that the Home Office should not have used the barracks long-term without properly assessing its impact on the community and vulnerable people in the camp.”

The court ruling comes as the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda faces a High Court challenge – on July 19. Refugee charities Care4Calais and Detention Action – as well as the Public and Commercial Services Union are seeking leave for judicial review.

If approved, the review could take place during the same hearing – scheduled to last three days. The decision to house up to 400 male migrants in Napier caused a storm from day one. In early 2021, some 197 people were infected during a COVID outbreak.

Conditions at Napier Barracks in Folkestone have been regularly questioned
Conditions at Napier Barracks in Folkestone have been regularly questioned

Last year many were evacuated when a fire – believed to have been set deliberately – broke out. The government had used emergency planning laws to use Napier for 12 months.

When that period expired, Ms Patel was granted use of the base until 2026 via a special development order – which overrides the Planning Act. As part of this plan, the government was required to consider all the implications under the Equality Act.

After Friday’s ruling, he must submit a new Equality Act-compliant bid. Mrs Justice Lieven said: “The development raises some very obvious issues, particularly around potential victimization and harassment.

“The large separate accommodation for male asylum seekers on the outskirts of town has a clear potential to create tension within the community. There is a very significant difference between a development that is proposed to continue for two months and one for five years.

“The pressure on services, for example on the local GP, community health and possibly the police, will be much greater over an extended period. The potential for impact on community relations is totally different.

She said she “did not feel there was proper consideration” of the government’s duties under the Equality Act. On Sunday, a court order will be issued which will determine the future of the barracks, which remain in use.

Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley said: “Once again Priti Patel has shown her disrespect for the law and the dignity of refugees. Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said: ‘This is yet another example of the chaotic state of the Home Office breaking the law of Priti Patel.’

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We are pleased that the court ruled in favor of the Home Office on seven of the eight grounds, including that our consultation on the use of the site was lawful. The pandemic and the unprecedented increase in dangerous boat crossings have put tremendous pressure on the system.

“We maintain that Napier is necessary to fulfill our legal obligation to provide accommodation for destitute asylum seekers, rather than relying on hotels costing nearly £5million a day.”