Detained at Heathrow Airport, UK

May 2016

How can anyone ever be prepared when landing in the UK, for detainment at Heathrow Airport for 6 hours?

Never, did I imagine this sort of treatment as a tourist to the UK…

Leaving Thailand

Heathrow, UK, EuropeAfter saying goodbye to Phuket following a great 3 months of volunteering in Southern Thailand with FED, caught the Etihad flight back to the UK.

I can never understand why if you just landed and still in transit such as in Dubai’s airport, you need to go through the whole customs/security check again. It’s not as if you can stop off mid-air and collect firearms or other unsavoury items.

As usual, Etihad’s service does not disappoint and the food is good for plane fare. The connecting larger Airbus 380 sees me sitting next to a whining 2-year old brat – kicking and nudging me in the thigh every 10 minutes – this is going to be a long 7-hour flight.

Landed at Heathrow

Arriving at Heathrow at around 7 am the Captain announces that passengers remain seated and wait  – a request by local authorities.

A few minutes later, 5 hefty police officers with machine guns and body armour march down the plane to seats opposite our row.

The police know the exact seat numbers that the two young Middle-Eastern-looking guys are sitting in and position themselves around the two guys. Told to collect their bags, they are then escorted off the plane.

It should have dawned on me then that this would be an eventful day.

After this incident and travelling some 26+ hours, my welcome to the UK unfolded somewhat unexpectedly…

terminal 4, heathrow, UK
Terminal 4 – Photo credit: unknown (Google)


Before going into today’s stressful saga and evolving events, I should briefly mention what happened in Portsmouth back in January when returning from a 3-month tour through the EU from St. Malo (France) with Reg (motorhome). More detail about my Portsmouth treatment in this post: Driving from Italy to the UK: Part 2.

These days, immigration is known as Border Force and it’s the Portsmouth Officer’s unprofessional treatment that resulted in my pain. To say that the Officer gave me a hard time is an understatement.

I was indirectly accused of being an Australian taking advantage of the UK-visa system’, amongst other insulting comments.

Unbeknownst to me, this same officer – abusing his position of authority – stamped my passport with a “Restricted visa”…because he could.

I didn’t realise this until this fateful day.

Welcome to the UK!

If you’ve been to Heathrow, you know that EU passport holders go down one immigration lane and non-EU passport holders travel down a different lane. Both lanes are totally separate and away from each other. So with dual nationalities, my partner goes off into the darkness and down the EU passport lane, arranging to meet at the baggage carousels on the other side, whilst I venture down the non-EU lane with the rest of the 800 passengers.

Finally, after an hours’ line-up at Border Force, it’s my turn. Although I look as if I’d just been dragged out of bed backwards, I manage to smile and remain calm, whilst the female officer asks the initial friendly questions.

We are getting on…

Opening my passport and checking her screen, she proceeds to interrogate me rather more aggressively.

Quite surprised at this change of heart, I ask politely if I’ve done anything wrong, which seems to anger her even more. With a frosty glare, I’m advised that the Portsmouth officer in January was not happy during the questioning, and stamped my passport with a different visa to alert any future Border Force officer.


Proceeding to keep my passport and barking the order to follow her to the ‘alien waiting area’, she advises that I will be interviewed further to see whether I will be granted entry to the UK, or deported back to Australia.

This is serious…

Keeping my cool, but totally confused to what law I’ve broken and a thousand other things running through my head, I advise that my partner is waiting in the carousel area. Allowed to contact him to bring all our luggage to the officer, I text: ‘You better come to the Immigration Control area as I think there’s a problem’.

Still totally confused as to why I’m sitting with a few other passengers in a holding area, whilst onlookers obviously wonder what criminal offences I committed, my partner arrives with our luggage. The officer (named her She-Devil) returns giving him a hard time although he’s a UK Citizen and orders him to bring all my belongings to a bench.

The interest is in my bags only.

Together with another officer, the She-Devil searches every single compartment in both my packs. Not sure what they think they’d find but extremely thorough. Finding nothing, they still confiscate every scrap of paperwork, dockets, itineraries, and even my diary. My partner’s phone number is recorded and he’s told to leave the Immigration Control area, and to wait in Arrivals as I am being detained until further notice.

Told to sit back in the holding area, I ask how long this would take. The She-Devil aggressively responds: ‘when an Interviewing Officer is available’, then this is the time it would take.

Without any information of what law I have broken or how long I’d be sitting here, I start becoming a little concerned and think this must be a mistake.

Another 20-minute wait before a male and female officer escorts me to another completely different area away from passengers.

I’m really starting to be quite uncomfortable now…

Detainment for 6 hours

The two officers advise that I’m being detained until further notice and until an interviewing officer becomes available for an Interview. The interviewer decides if I’d be granted entry or be deported.

All that’s echoing in my brain at this time is: ‘Until further notice” and “deported’.

Let that sink in for a moment…

I politely ask what I’ve done wrong, but no one can tell me what crime I’ve committed.

Not quite, but I was treated like a criminal! Photo credit: unknown (Google)

If you are a tourist entering the UK and detained, this is what you can expect…

Mug Shot room

As the back detainment area is under renovation, the two officers lead me to a dark and dingy small room.

Imagine a film set on an old crappy B-Grade Detective Movie and you get the picture.

In this small room, mug shots are taken but also all my finger and palm prints – this is concerning. Working with Finger Printing Technology an age ago, I always remember the developer’s advice: ‘never get all your finger prints in a database, as any database can be hacked.’

Detainment Room

With this comforting thought, I’m led to a newly renovated, clean and very brightly-lit detainment room.

The room contains a drinks/coffee machine, separate toilet, a couple of chairs, magazines, a bean bag, and a public phone – weird.

Sounds comfy?

Think again, I’m not allowed to leave this room. The assurance of this is a two-way large window with several security officers looking out at me…

In this room, I’m given a full Body Search (not an internal and still clothed) by a female security officer. The very nice Tascor officer (security company) asks whether I require any personal items from my day pack before showing me where it is to be locked away.

I’m not allowed my mobile phone, so my partner’s number is recorded again, then he phones my partner advising that he should phone on the hour for an update. I’m read some rules and advised that at anytime during detainment, if I want a hot meal then I can request one but he can’t tell me for how long I’ll be detained.

I’m not allowed to contact anyone.

This is starting to unfold like something out of a Border Force Control series on TV…now I’m bloody concerned!

The long wait

Some hours slowly drag by alone in this room with too much time to think about…

Meanwhile, my partner is waiting in Arrivals and phoning the pay phone on the hour for an update. Each hour that passes, I don’t have an update.

During the long wait no one came into the room to explain what crime I committed or for how long I’d be detained.

No information. No contact. Just like a criminal. Actually, worse than a criminal as a criminal is allowed a lawyer.

The Interview

Finally, after some time yet another female officer (very nice) takes me to another area – a corridor.

I’m advised that she researched me for an hour before the interview and proceeds to conduct a full interview for another hour.

Everything I say is written down verbatim and I have to sign every page – about 20 pages (I think). I’m advised that this information can be used in a Court of Law.

The interview is intense.

With each question asked the officer searches my face to see whether I am lying whilst responding.

Very degrading.

After an hour’s questioning, the officer advises that the Credibility Interview is now over and asks if I have any questions.

My response: Why am I being detained and being treated like this?

The three main reasons:

  1. Restricted Visa stamp caused the additional questioning.
  2. I don’t have a confirmed exit ticket for the UK (although I have provided a legitimate reason and carry confirming paperwork). Additionally, at the time of writing, I cannot find any information online that an exit ticket is a UK-requirement on entry.
  3. The She-Devil stated I was ‘uncooperative’.  This is because I asked if I did anything wrong and for how long I’d be held. Questions you have a right to ask?

After the interview, I’m escorted back to the Detainment Room and again advised that the interviewing officer will decide whether to grant me an entry visa or deport me back to Australia. Even after this long wait and stressful interview, I still have no idea whether I’m being deported.

You think I’m making all of this up, right? Incredulous?

This is so ridiculous that I’m half-heartedly hoping that a TV Camera crew will jump out at this point and say: Surprise! Sadly, this does not happen.

I wait.

During my 6-hour ordeal, I’ve seen six officers and wonder how UK-citizens feel about this waste of taxpayer money. Why aren’t these guys chasing real threats?

Free to go!

The friendly interviewing officer returns and advises I satisfied her that I am sincere in my responses.

Granted a 6-month ‘Restricted’ Tourist Visa but advised ‘I cannot seek employment’. To which I reply (as in the interview): I am semi-retired, travelling, and do not want to seek anything from the UK.

The interviewing officer doesn’t like the fact that in the last 2 years, I’ve been out of Australia more time than in Australia.

Since when did long-term travelling become a criminal offence and not in the country of your origin?

Really starting to be p*ssed off with the UK and decide if the UK doesn’t want my money, then I can travel elsewhere. Anyone that’s travelled knows that every day you’re out, costs money. Whether it’s for transport, fuel, food, accommodation, sites, clothing, and other. Let’s face it regardless of how much money is spent, travellers still pump money into a country’s economy. Rant over.

Finally, after 6 hours of detainment and Border Force ‘processing’ I’m free and waiting for the bus to Somerset – about 3 hours from Heathrow – lucky it’s an evening bus.

After 37+ hours since starting this journey from Thailand, I am now both physically and mentally drained. Still, I cannot sleep on the bus as  I’m much too angry.

Letters to Home Office

Quite angry at myself for letting the Portsmouth Officer get away with his behaviour and unprofessionalism after the first incident, I’m not going to let this detainment slip by. Hindsight’s a beautiful thing and I should have reported the first officer straight after the mistreatment.

I write a Letter of Complaint to Home Office.

If you’ve ever written anything to this department, you know that submitting the letter is confirmed with a we’ll get back to you within ’20 working days’ response.

After waiting 74 working days(!) to receive a response, I’m both appalled and insulted that Home Office accuses me of fabricating not one, but two experiences with the UK Border Force!

I email a second response.

Request under FOIA (Freedom of Information Act)

After much research, I decide to submit a request under the FOIA to the Subject Access Request Unit (SARU) and pay £10 to see what sordid information the UK holds, and is documented against my otherwise clear name.

  • First letter is returned to me with a lame excuse that I’ve applied to the wrong Department – although I followed their online instructions implicitly.
  • Second amended letter is returned with a yet longer explanation that my Driver’s Licence is not endorsed by someone in authority such as a Solicitor, which is not in their original instructions. This is now a requirement, since mailing my second letter.
  • Third letter – another long-winded explanation with yet another long-winded new form to complete.

It feels as if this department does not want to give me the information – probably wants me to go away and crawl under a rock in a dark place somewhere.

Update: 2017

I’ve been sending letters for the past 8 months.

Following 4 letters to Border Force (still waiting on a last response); 3 letters to SARU; and still no joy in removing the flag (Notification) from my passport or myself, I’m going to keep trying.

Apart from clearing my name the reason for being so tenacious is that I can be detained again at any time entering the UK or even during a transit. No one in Border Force or Home Office can confirm that this will not happen again.

My experience thus far with the Border Force procedure, is one that is both convoluted and time-consuming, which favours its own establishment and tries to sweep under the carpet any errors.

What the procedure does not cover or deter is the manner in which someone that is detained is treated. Border Force advised that it reviewed its procedure of my case. I have no problem with the procedure, but the problem I do have is the rude and gruff handling from the first and second Border Force officers, and of course my 6-hour detainment.

Home Office also tries to exhaust an applicant in the hope that the person goes away forever.

I would love to hear from anyone who had similar treatment in the UK or any country for that matter.

Apart from travel in the UK this little episode hasn’t dampened my travel desires.

The next travel chapter? Return to Italy, as I advised Border Force that I would do – I’m not lying!

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on the United Kingdom at Image Earth Travel.

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86 responses to “Detained at Heathrow Airport, UK”

  1. Lauren Avatar

    ad a similar experience only I wasn’t even trying to enter the UK. I am a US citizen and had a one way flight from my hometown in the US to Istanbul Turkey. I had a few stop overs including in the UK where I was going to transfer from Heathrow to Stanstead airport. The transit time was less than two hours. I even called ahead of time to confirm about visa and Covid procedures.

    Upon arrival at Heathrow, I ended up not just being detained, but not even being TOLD that I was detained. Then I was detained OVERNIGHT in a locked room and refused entry to the UK for my transfer flight! I was then basically DEPORTED back to the US (and not even my city of origin!) I was told to “shut up” by an immigration official and REFUSED my PRESCRIPTION medication when I asked for it!! They said they had to call an AMBULANCE to get permission to give me my own meds!! I was also refused ibuprofen initially when I developed a headache and all of my stuff was confiscated from me.

    Here are the details: When I got to Heathrow I had my up to date passport, the 3 month required Turkish visa and everything else. While I wasn’t doing well because the US was undergoing political turmoil (this was around the time of the insurrection)I was not aggressive or rude and didn’t commit any crime. I didn’t have a return flight but they ended up saying I didn’t even require a return flight!

    The only thing “wrong” I can think of that I did was saying that I was considering looking for volunteer work or an English teaching job during my 3 month stay in Turkey. I was going to room with a friend who was there and even gave them her address I believe. I also had other friends there. I said I may also leave before or after my allotted 3 months and travel some more. It turns out Turkish residency/work permit laws ALLOW you to apply to work and stay there on a tourist visa, and you are even allowed to overstay your visa as long as you apply for residency and work!

    The officials at Heathrow told me they would have to “determine” if I was “acceptable” to Turkey. Mind you I wasn’t even flying out from Heathrow!! All I needed to do was get on a bus and transit to Stanstead and then fly to Istanbul. It isn’t the UK’s business to determine if I am “acceptable” to another country! They also told me as a US citizen that I needed a visa for entry into the UK just to TRANSIT which is FALSE!!

    I didn’t feel safe in the US and I didn’t want to go back due to the political situation and with all the violence. They told me they don’t grant asylum to Americans, Canadians or Japanese, which again is also FALSE as I looked it up.

    They sent me back through every other stop over including in Portugal where a POLICE VAN I kid you not transported me like I was some kind of criminal. I had to spend more money on a crappy hotel in the city they sent me back to and then get a flight to my hometown. By that time I didn’t even have enough money to pay all my cab fare back to my father’s house. It was a true nightmare situation

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Wow, Lauren, what a story and much worse than my experience!
      You travelled this year? How did you find my post?
      I’ve never heard of the UK detaining anyone to determine if you were a risk to a different country – that’s bizarre. Once you’re detained, you’re in no man’s land and without rights. I know you can be detained in transit and the worse part is that now have a flag on your passport for 10 years. The fact that they refused your medication is serious. Your treatment was much worse than mine, which I didn’t think was possible.

      Your scenario sounds like they needed to fill their monthly quota and you were the ‘lucky’ person although your treatment sounds extreme. Countries (especially the UK) don’t like vague travel plans – no set dates, exit flight, but most of all when you say you’re looking for work. As you were only transiting in the UK, this shouldn’t have been their business.
      We landed in Stockholm several weeks ago and still got the standard questions before being granted entry.
      I hope this hasn’t stopped you from travelling. 🙂

  2. equinoxio21 Avatar

    I so hate arbitrary. Give some petty individuals authority and they will abuse it. Maybe you should sue. (And get the King off Oz passports…)
    I’ve had many unpleasant experiences with immigration officers. Mostly in the US. I learned never to joke, or argue with any.
    Keep writing. (Or maybe you should get a sollicitor?)

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It was a ridiculous detainment and the first time ever experiencing something like this…and to think we’re part of the Commonwealth! Makes my blood boil as the flag is on me for 10 years and I did absolutely nothing to deserve this treatment. They need to fill a quota for detainment so guess I was the (un)lucky bunny! 🙁

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Unlucky indeed. And also the consequence of being passed on. Only the first officer knows you didn’t do anything. But as you are passed on and on form one officer to the other, each assumes you must be guilty of something.
        I once had my permanent visa to the US ripped away by an irate US Migration officer, saying: “You must not yell at people!”. I had just told a joke to another officer… who said: “I don’t know Sir, you will have to talk to my supervisor…” 😳

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yeah, it’s the old adage, put someone in a uniform and the power goes to their head!
        It’s a law unto its own and a no man’s land when you’re detained – no rights, it’s frightening, to say the least and I still get nervous entering the UK.

      3. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Can you bypass the UK straight to Italy?

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Of course, but the issue is that my partner is from the UK so his family and friends are still in the UK. I also have friends there that I like to visit, but both experiences make me nervous about landing in the UK, even when we flew from Calabria to Stanstead Airport, I was always on my guard. It’s so unnatural for me as never in 30-plus years of travelling have I felt this way about entering a country.

      5. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I see. If he is from the UK, then you should go. Maybe a solicitor is not abad idea. Surely there must have been cases, and you can’t really be nervous every time you go to the UK…

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I also love travelling in the UK as it is a beautiful country. I don’t think solicitors can help as Immigration is a closed shop and only have 4 years to go until the flag is lifted. 😉

      7. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Patience then. I’m sure the UK is great to visit. Only know London and Brighton (the latter for one day! LOL) I’ve always had in mind to spend a few weeks there… One day.

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I love the southwest, especially Devon and Cornwall, both are gorgeous areas of the UK. Somerset is also gorgeous and steeped in King Arthur’s history.

      9. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I’d love Cornwall. Hopping over to Somerset right now. (As in Maugham?) 😉

      10. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        You would. I first fell in love with Cornwall in 1985 and have visited many times now.

  3. Rachelle Avatar

    This happened to me in 2015 as I was entering the UK for the first time ever, to visit my then-boyfriend in Scotland. I travelled from Canada to Heathrow to catch a connecting flight to Glasgow. I was very sick at the time and the border guard kept accusing me of being there to steal their NHS. We have free healthcare in Canada but that fact couldn’t penetrate his paranoid brain.

    I went through the interrogations, the holding, the interview. For subsequent trips I avoided Heathrow by getting a direct flight, but it was more interrogations and racist comments (my boyfriend is of Indian descent) every time. My passport got the stamp that says no access to public funds, no employment, and they were always very very keen to press that fact, even though I told them I’m retired, I’m not staying, etc.

    I was there for three weeks each time, and always had the paperwork showing my already-booked and paid for return ticket, but it didn’t stop the rabidness of the border guards. They were so anxious to make my time there hard that they would even grab me as I was heading into the hallway that lead to the gates, to interrogate me and scan my passport, and put the sticker on it. One time I had said goodbye to my boyfriend at the hallway leading to the gates and was actually a few steps into it (in other words, I was already on way way out of the country), when a security guard hauled me back out to question me, check my passport, etc. Even though he had prevented me from leaving the country, he still grilled me as to when I was leaving, and threatened me with deportation if I stayed more than 6 months a year. When am I leaving, Sir? Well, I was just starting to leave when you grabbed me and prevented me from doing so.

    Are they paid by the tourist, I wonder? Anyway, I’m glad the boyfriend and I are through because I will NEVER go back to the UK…ever. People who ask me about my time there, before they travel, get told this story, and they avoid the UK as a result. I wish this slight dip in tourist revenue would affect the UK enough that it would make them take a look at how their border guards behave, and revamp the system. Oh, I wish.

    The denial and gaslighting that this ever happened..bollocks. They know it goes on all the time. They are on a power trip and blowing themselves up with it. I really wish I’d been wearing a wire and it being recorded each time it happened but I don’t know what the legal implications of that would be. Knowing them, something terrible.

    [This comment is the edited version of the previously submitted comment]

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Rachelle,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with me and my readers. I can honestly say that I feel for you and what you went through – it certainly does leave a bad taste in your mouth. I think to myself, if the UK doesn’t want me in the country then I have the rest of the world from which to choose. The issue is that the flag is on me for 10 years, which is crazy as by letting me in, they’re saying that I’m not a threat at all so why keep the flag?

      It’s good to get the word out as this does happen indiscriminately and at the whim of border guards flexing their muscle. It’s not about doing their job, it’s blatant harassment. I’ve since heard that the Border Force have a quota for detention that it must meet each month but not sure if this is correct.
      Until the border guards change, the system won’t change.

      Thanks again for taking the time to leave me a comment and hope that you’re OK now. 🙂

  4. youngC Avatar

    Hi! I just got to read this during searching for uk immigration. I can’t believe that I/O did severe interrogation to you even if you are not a criminal or did something wrong at all-and also with 10 years of record! This is awful. 🙁

    Didn’t you try to go back to UK after this? Because I heard UK decided to open e-gates for 7 non-EEA countries including Austrailia from June 2019. Perhaps you can go through the border in this way without 1:1 immigration check with officer?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yeah, it was a pretty awful time and as I was allowed into the country, this proves that I’m not a criminal.
      I did return to the UK and went through the e-gate without any issues. I couldn’t believe how smooth entry was and hope it stays that way. 😉

  5. Suellen Tomkins - Wild Heart Gypsy Spirit Avatar

    Good grief – what an ordeal. And dealing in the aftermath with the bureaucracy to prevent it happening again appears even more frustrating.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Suellen, yes it was an ordeal and 3 years later knowing that the flag is on me still causes apprehension to enter the UK.
      Have you had anything like this ever happen to you?
      Many thanks for your comment.

    2. Suellen Tomkins - Wild Heart Gypsy Spirit Avatar

      Nothing quite as harrowing just something a little odd. My husband, who is a permanent resident in Australia but has an overseas passport was asked by an immigration official why he hadn’t become a citizen yet? Probably an innocuous question, but I thought it was weird and actually none of his business.

      1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yeah know exactly what you mean. Officers seem to always be trying to catch people out – it’s like they don’t have anything better to do but to push buttons.

  6. wanderingraks Avatar

    ohgad what an ordeal.! I was expecting a video crew from Border Control series to materialize anytime. Rude immigration officials just add to the stress of travelling

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, it was and makes me so nervous to return to the UK as the flag lasts for 10 years.

      It’s hypocritical that after the detainment I was cleared of any wrong-doing and granted a 6-month tourist visa, allowing me into the country but the flag was not removed, which expires in 10 years. I can be detained again even during a transit in the UK.

  7. Paul Africanus of Osawatomie Avatar
    Paul Africanus of Osawatomie

    My debacle appears to have ended on a positive. See the update:

    Keeping fingers crossed. I hope you finally arrived at some resolution to this nightmare.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Paul, lucky you!

      I should get a copy of your complaint letter, but after my 4th or 5th letter, it was fruitless, and mine hasn’t been resolved. My last letter from Home Office advised that the flag would not be removed, so not sure exactly what kind of flag it is, but know it lasts 10 years.

  8. John Avatar

    It is routine for UK immigration to deny entry to partners of UK citizens unless they are entering on a spouse or fiancee visa on the basis that there is some doubt as to the true intentions of the visitor in visiting the UK. Immigration officials must be fully satisfied that the intent of the visitor is tourism and that they also intend to return home. When you have a UK citizen as a partner, there is motive to remain in the UK. As a result, they usually require some form of evidence to demonstrate proof of intention to return to your country of origin, such as property ownership, children, business ownership or salaried employment.

    In your case, you had several red flags (UK citizen partner, no formal employment, no outbound ticket are the ones you mention in this post). In fact, I know of several cases where people were flat out denied entry under similar circumstances to your own.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      So it’s a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ environment? You sound as though perhaps you work/worked for the Home Office?

      All good points. However, on both occasions, I had more than enough paperwork to justify my position. Also, the line of questioning from the Portsmouth officer was totally unprofessional, unacceptable, and he was abusing his position. On both occasions, I had been out of the UK for months, not just a week or two.

      My partner is a dual-citizen, we are based in Australia, and have no intention of living in the UK. I had more than enough proof to justify this – no one wanted to check my documents and just like you are doing, made assumptions without investigating fully the facts.

      The last time I checked, it wasn’t illegal or an offence to be semi-retired and to travel for as long as I wish. Has this changed? I was entering the UK as a tourist and not on a working visa.

      I did not write this post to gain any sympathy at all. This post is to inform anyone visiting the UK, especially Australians, how they may be treated.

  9. 3sistersabroad Avatar

    Oh my goodness! Reading this I was just shocked at your treatment. This is just awful. Have you had anything yet from the Home Office? have they lifted it off your passport? ..With Dubai…we didn’t get it when we went via Dubai to France. Strange how they check you on the way in and the way out. Singapore was lovely and thank goodness we are going to Spain via Singapore next year. Its called a travelers lounge. Dubai not my favorite place at all.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Many thanks for commenting. Yes, it was an awful experience and I’m still apprehensive these days to return to the UK.

      No, I never received a response from Home Office for my last letter. The last letter advised me to ‘write to my local MP in the UK’ – a tad hard when I’m Australian. The flag is on for 10 years and told, cannot be lifted. In saying that, I had to get a new passport for my 12-month visa. When I nervously returned to the UK last year, I had a return ticket and no stamps in my passport. I’m assuming this is why I was not detained again.

      The flights I’ve had through Dubai have always been checked, maybe it’s the airline on which I travelled.

  10. Cherryl Avatar

    So sad to hear about this shocking ordeal, it must have been unimaginable scary and humiliating. I hope the rest of your time in the UK made up this saga – how awful. Your partner must have been really stressed out too 😯

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes it was but the worse outcome of this ordeal is that for no reason, I’m now flagged for 10 years. So, regardless if I’m landing in the UK or just transiting, I can go through this ordeal all over again and at the whim of Border Force. Indeed, my partner was also stressed.

      1. Cherryl Avatar

        Omg! Thats so twisted when there are plenty of other people on the loose that actually need this kind of monitoring.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Totally agree but there’s nothing I can do as I’ve written letters and now Border Force refuses to respond as it thinks it has addressed my concerns sufficiently.

      3. Cherryl Avatar

        Wishing you lots of very happy travels, regardless 🔆😊

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you so much and likewise!
        Regardless of the powers that be wanting to keep its citizens in their own countries, nothing will stop me travelling. 😉

  11. Paul Africanus of Osawatomie Avatar
    Paul Africanus of Osawatomie

    I had the same experience you had when I was detained for six hours at Heathrow but ultimately let in. I suspect I have been flagged too due to a previous visa refusal. My experience at Heathrow is documented here:
    According to Gayot Fow, who is a well known retired immigration attorney in the UK for high net worth individuals, the flag will be removed after I apply for and approved for a visitor visa. I have no plans of giving the UK government a £ of my money. The main reason I ultimately decided to become an American citizen after nineteen years in the USA is to have visa free access to European countries I had hitherto spent a fortune on visa applications to visit and I will not pay a penny for a UK visa. I will be visiting the UK in the next few months again and will find out if the flag still counts against me although I was allowed in during my previous visit.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Paul,
      I’ve just read your experience, which brought back memories of my detainment of which is a little different to yours, as I wasn’t refused a visa.
      Typically, Australian tourists are granted 6 months on arrival to the UK.

      The officer in Portsmouth took an instant dislike to me and I truly believe that it is because I am Australian, and he believed that as an Australian, I was trying to wrought the visa system. This is absurd. After travelling through Europe in a motorhome and having been out of the UK for 3 months, I entered the UK intending to stay only long enough to obtain a 3-month Volunteer Visa for an onward journey to Thailand. I had supporting documents and NGO letters, but not the visa at that point. This is also the reason for not having a flight out of the UK as I didn’t know exactly how long the Volunteer Visa would take. Because the Portsmouth Officer stamped my passport with a ‘flagged’ 6-months’ tourist visa (granted 6 months anyway), when I returned from Thailand after 3 months’ volunteering, this stamp alerted the Heathrow officer to aggressive questioning and detainment.

      After several letters to Home Office, I was advised that there is no possible way that the flag will be removed, which lasts for 10 years. I’m not sure what else to try as Home Office no longer responds to my emails.

    2. Joakim Bainsworth Avatar

      Image Earth Travel: visas on Arrival in the UK do not exist, period! You entered without a visa, which you can for no longer than 6 months. Paul was previously refused a visa and then entered visa-free, which was a hassle.

      So you should apply for a visa at a UK visa office (but make sure you present substantial proof of strong ties to Australia) and then the flag will disappear, and once the visa expires, you can enter visa-free as if None of this ever happened.

      1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Hi Joakim,

        Thanks for your response, however, Australians do not require a visa as we do indeed get a stamped ‘tourist visa’ on arrival but you’re right in that we can only stay for 6 months: (Our Australian government site is correct.)
        I will have to look into an application. Although as I am currently in Italy, I’m not sure how I go about this as I believe this needs to be done from Australia. Isn’t an Australian passport enough proof for ties to Australia?

  12. Jean Reinhardt Avatar

    That’s shocking treatment. I hope you get that flag lifted soon, it’s totally unjust.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Jean, thanks for commenting and welcome to my site.

      Yes it was and there’s no way Border Force will lift the flag, I’ve exhausted all avenues – it’s on for 10 years. It’s absurd, especially as I was allowed into the UK and not deported.

      Makes you wonder what the need is for these agencies to retain all this information on innocent people, doesn’t it? After all, I was detained for 6 hours and put through the hoops and they still didn’t find anything because of course, I hadn’t broken any laws, at all.

      1. Jean Reinhardt Avatar

        It makes you wonder how on earth criminals actually manage to move around so much, yet they do!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Exactly, but I can’t but help to think that perhaps BF went too far in my detainment process only to find nothing along the way, and had to continue until the process was finished.

        The problem is that the Portsmouth officer was spiteful and wrote a lot of unwarranted notes against me, which I still can’t obtain under the FOI Act.

      3. Jean Reinhardt Avatar

        It’s crazy that one disgruntled person with a bit of authority can make life so difficult for you. Fingers crossed that you won’t have to wait ten years.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Very true Jean but it will be 10 years as I have this in writing from Border Force. 🙁

    2. Joakim Bainsworth Avatar

      If you get a visa, the flag will disappear immediately.

      1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you but I’ve also read that they can refuse a visa.

  13. Francis.R. Avatar

    I am so sorry for that, sadly border officers seems to be in a special status it seems so they seems to have more power than other gubernamental officials. In Peru and some closer countries is funny to know that they are one of the few organizations that don’t make complains to raise their salaries, we suspect as they can do anything they want they can get also chances to get some shady extra money. I understand why you are tenacious and that’s good, nobody should abuse of his/her power over others, they have that power to avoid dangerous persons, not to mistreat anybody that doesn’t treat them like kings.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Francis and you’ve hit the nail on the head!

      Officials in this uniform with this much power is a story that is not only happening in the UK but globally. I hate to say this but think since 9/11 it has been an open invitation to erode people’s civil liberties in many countries; and all in the name of “The War on Terror”. Watching the world news, it doesn’t seem as if the world has become a ‘safer’ place today.

      Although I’ll always be polite to border officials, it goes against my grain to grovel to such people; they are a class above the law.

  14. Uncover Travel Avatar

    Oh dear, sounds like a terrible experience! Hope you enjoy your next adventure in Italy!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes it was and I was quite surprised at the over-the-top treatment, let alone being detained for 6 hours!

      I’m not a criminal and didn’t appreciate being treated as one either. Having worked on many Law Enforcement and Emergency Services’ projects over 17 years, police checks are always performed prior to my starting a project. Border Force could of quite easily obtained any type of information on me but chose to flex its muscle instead. Perhaps there was a quota to fill that day and I was the (unlucky) Chosen One. 😉

      Thank you, I’m enjoying eating my way through Italy with my ever-expanding waistline!

  15. emotionsoflife2016 Avatar

    Such an enjoyable read

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks, but it wasn’t an enjoyable experience.

  16. thegreyeye Avatar

    City of *

  17. thegreyeye Avatar

    Nilla, I am so sorry to hear that, but I know it happens. Recently it has been increased astronomically. I went to lecture in a Switzerland, german visa officer asked me ” what are you doing here? ” is that a way to talk to a passenger? But I didn’t argue. Because I know it would cause me more problem. I had very insulting experience in french custom when I travelled to Paris for the first time. So, please don’t feel bad

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for sharing your experiences and yes, they are a law unto their own, regardless of the country. As the old saying goes, put someone in a uniform…

      I can’t put this behind me until Home Office lifts the flag as I can be detained again, even just in transit in the UK. Not in a hurry to return to the UK; plenty of other countries to enjoy and in which to spend my hard-earned cash!

    2. Joakim Bainsworth Avatar

      The Germans aren’t all masters of English, so I doubt it was meant to be rude

      1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Perhaps not, however, Germans in these positions probably do know enough English. 🙂

      2. thegreyeye Avatar

        If they don’t, they are not fit for an international airport.

      3. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I have to agree, and especially, when officers start interrogating passengers.

  18. christie jones Avatar

    OMG! Such an unfortunate experience.. it is very sad when they pick on travelers instead of looking for the real threats..

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, totally agree.

      It makes me wary of returning to the UK, which is a shame as I have many friends there and it’s very beautiful.

  19. seasiangirl Avatar

    Good grief, I liked this post but I don’t like what I just read. That must have been horrendous…. how dare they treat you that way and like you said, they should be concentrating their efforts on real criminals… I am so sorry this happened and I hope you get somewhere with your complaint xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks for your feedback but it’s not you that should be apologising. 🙂

      I doubt my 8 months (and continuing) of letter submissions will help at all and my record is tainted for the next 10 years…only 9.4 years’ to go!

      One of my readers posted this link WTFUK, which is about a US-Citizen that wasn’t as lucky as me during detainment in the UK…it’s a great read.

      1. seasiangirl Avatar

        Thanks, I just read that. What a horrendous story. And I can imagine her not wanting to go back.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        A much worse scenario and outcome than mine. I’d never want to return!

  20. s2art Avatar

    Oh dear. How terrible.I read of a similar experience recently I suspect an online community forming.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Wow, although very similar treatment to mine, at least I wasn’t deported back to Australia!
      Perhaps it’s time to form one.

  21. inesephoto Avatar

    I am speechless. So, it happened because of that Portsmouth guy who was definitely aware of the consequences when he put the Restricted visa stamp on your passport. It is their ‘procedure of punishment’. I am not flying with British Airways anymore because I had problems with them. I just ignore them when shopping for flights 🙁

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, he knew exactly what he was doing when he flagged me. As a good ex-police force friend of mine explained “the guy wanted to make sure that I would remember him”.

      I thought at the time, it was unusual that he was writing so many notes down about me but I didn’t know why. I think he had a personal vendetta against Australians as he mentioned a couple of times that Australians hop over to France, etc. for a week to renew their 6-month visa then come back in. I had been out for over 3 months and in a Motorhome – it was not exactly a one-week jaunt! I was quite livid at the time but had to keep my cool and smile.

      1. inesephoto Avatar

        Absolutely agree, a shallow, vindictive man. Why to be like that? Was it some sort of jealousy? You know what? Just forget him.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Think he just had a personal vendetta against Australians and I happened to come along smiling!
        I can’t forget him until the flag is lifted from my passport but also me. If/when I return to the UK, this could happen again. The worry is that even if I just transit through the UK this can happen.

      3. inesephoto Avatar

        What can happen after you have sorted out your papers?

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I’m still waiting on a response from Home Office to my 4th letter as to why they won’t lift the flag. This is what I’m trying to sort out but HO refuses. The department keeps my fingerprints and details for 10 years, even though I’m innocent and HO confirmed I’m “not a threat to the UK”. So, I think this means that during those 10 years, I can be detained at any time on entering the UK or even during a transit in the UK.

        Their last letter advised that it was the final letter and included a link to contact my local MP in the UK. As this method is only for UK-Citizens, I see this as another way of trying to get rid of me.

      5. inesephoto Avatar

        I wonder, what else can be done? It is simply surreal. You are just a person who likes traveling, and since when it is a crime? Also, does it make a difference if you are not leaving their airport during your transit? Are you still a threat? 😉

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Apart from go to the press, nothing. It’s pathetic not surreal. Unfortunately, it seems more and more that governments like to keep their citizens in their own countries…another form of control perhaps? This is especially when it comes to extended travel.

        I don’t think it does make a difference as I’m still landing on UK-soil. Border Force is a law unto its own and can do whatever it likes at any time.
        Ha, ha funny, but Home Office (Border Force) have stated in writing that I’m not a threat to the UK. Hence, my support argument to lift the flag and remove my fingerprints/details from their database.

      7. inesephoto Avatar

        US Customs are collecting my fingerprints every time i travel. It is their procedure.

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I know but you wonder why they need to retain all this information on innocent people.

      9. inesephoto Avatar

        Today I am innocent, but who knows 😉

  22. Fede Avatar

    Oh my god, I really did not believe what I was reading @@ a similiar treatment to a normal and nice tourist eager to discover and spend some money in their country D: I must say that British border (I landed in Stansed airport) had the longest queue I have ever seen at a border and they asked me more questions than in any other places xD I guess because I was travelling with my friend (everyone was 17 at that time)with just my father. Maybe they thought he was a kidnapper ahah my boyfriend, whi studies in the uk since 4 years, always have problems at the border and everytime they asked him many questions even though he has a student visa == I guess recently the border checkings were boosted because of immigration and brexit but it is not nice to treat a tourist in a such way == and then, they should be able to understand when someone is a real criminal and when not! Sorry for your misadventure, I wish u a better luck next time 😊

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for commenting and sharing your experiences! Funny story, especially with your father. I’ve just updated my post as whilst I was trying to sleep last night, I remembered another thing that happened on the plane; read new section under Landed at Heathrow.

      I totally agree about Immigration but also if someone has been cleared, especially after a 6-hour detainment, there is no need to still flag this person or “keep records for 10 years”!

      It’s taken me a while to upload this post as I’ve been sending letters back and forth for the past 8 months. I didn’t want to jeopardise anything. However, Border Force flatly refuses to remove the Flag from my passport and me. This is even though BF confirmed in writing that I’m “not a threat to the UK” and on each occasion, I was granted a 6-month Tourist visa and not deported.

      1. Fede Avatar

        Your story really shocked me xD I would have been really nervous and terrified of being brought back to my home country and u are even from Australia, my god @@ I really hope your letters will have some effects and will be able to change something! Oh I go reading later, I am curious ahah anyway good luck 😉

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I was shocked at my treatment both times and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous during the detainment. Deportation is not something you want against your name!

        I don’t hold any hope of a positive outcome but will keep trying. Perhaps I should take this to the BBC 😉

      3. Fede Avatar

        Ahaha yeah good idea, a new bbc documentary 😉 I would , of coursr, watch it ahaha

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        You’re funny, but it’s a thought! 😉

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