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Monday, 17 January, 2000, 06:51 GMT
Tyson highlights game of chance

Mike Tyson graphic

By BBC News Online's Chris Summers

The case of Mike Tyson has highlighted the arbitrary nature of the UK's Immigration Rules.

Paragraph 320 (18) of the document states that visitors from abroad convicted of certain crimes will normally be refused entry "save where the Immigration Officer is satisfied that admission would be justified for strong compassionate reasons".

Mike Tyson's coming here to fight and do nothing else. He's not going to be a danger to anyone, except perhaps the other guy in the ring
Promoter Frank Warren
These include convictions for crimes which, if committed in the UK, are punishable with at least a year in jail.

The rules date from 1971, when the Immigration Act became law.

But the difficulty in applying them fairly is that they rely entirely on the discretion of the individual immigration officer, who is often working on nothing more than instinct and visual recognition.

Recognition is not a problem with Tyson. When he was jailed for six years for raping beauty queen Desiree Washington in Indiana in 1992 it made headline news around the world. He was also jailed in February last year for attacking two motorists.

As an American, he does not need a visa to come into the UK or a work permit to take part in a boxing match.

Puff Daddy Puff Daddy has been allowed into the UK
Interpol routinely flags up criminals who are wanted globally and the Immigration Service keeps a special eye out for them.

But there is no international list of convicted felons and there have been numerous occasions when organised criminals from the US, Hong Kong, Italy, Russia and especially Jamaica have been let in to the UK, often on false passports.

Immigration officers have only limited information to go.

Instantly recognisable

Several "Yardie" gangsters, intent on drug dealing and violence, have been deported to Jamaica only to return again and again.

Unfortunately they are not as instantly recognisable as Mike Tyson.

A Home Office spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "Forty million visitors come to the UK every year and there is no practical way of supplying comprehensive information on every person.

"Some cases are more likely to be known about than others. It is accepted that it is not an ideal system but it's hard to see what else you could do."

She said there were plans for an international forum to discuss how best different nations could exchange information about their citizens.

Frank Warren, the promoter who set up the Tyson-Francis fight, says he does not understand why there should be a problem with "Iron Mike" coming to the UK.

'No danger'

He said: "People like the rock singer James Brown... and (Patrick) Kluivert the footballer have been allowed into the country even though they have had criminal convictions."

Mr Warren said rap stars Puff Daddy and Snoop Doggy Dog had also been allowed into the UK despite convictions.

He said: "Mike Tyson's coming here to fight and do nothing else. He's not going to be a danger to anyone, except perhaps the other guy in the ring."

Francis's manager Frank Maloney points out that US promoter Don King visits the UK frequently despite having a manslaughter conviction dating back to the 1960s, when he ran an illegal lottery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Former world heavyweight champ Sonny Liston was also allowed to visit despite having spent much of his life in prison.

But Glenda Jackson, a candidate for mayor of London, and Trevor Phillips, running mate of her Labour rival Frank Dobson, were the first to moot opposition to Tyson's visit.

Maloney told BBC News Online: "There would have been no problem if these so-called candidates for mayor had not jumped on the bandwagon.

"If they get elected is London going to become a sports-free zone?"

Whichever way the Tyson dilemma is resolved, the question will remain: "How do we know who to stop coming in to the UK?"

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See also:
12 Jan 00 |  Sport
'Too late' to move Tyson fight
11 Jan 00 |  Sport
The life of Iron Mike

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