Nova Scotian detained, kicked out of England twice, readies for 3rd trip to Europe

A Nova Scotia family wants an apology from the U.K. government after their 19-year-old son was stopped at the London airport, detained for days, then kicked out of the country — twice.

John Southcott flew to Gatwick airport Feb. 24 and again on March 14, but was denied entry both times

John Southcott from Dartmouth, N.S., pictured at the Halifax airport in February, isn't giving up on his dream of backpacking across Europe. (Submitted by Steve Southcott)

A Nova Scotia family wants an apology from the U.K. government after their son was stopped at a London airport, detained for days, then kicked out of the country — twice.

John Southcott, a 19-year-old from Dartmouth said he spent days in separate detention centres for simply wanting to fulfil his dream of backpacking across Europe.

Southcott saved up his money and booked a WestJet flight to Gatwick on Feb. 24. He planned to stay in England for a couple days before continuing on.

He didn't have a return ticket, but neither he nor his parents thought he needed one.

"It just sucks because I didn't do anything wrong and I was treated like I was a criminal," said Southcott.

When he arrived at the airport in February, he said he was pulled aside by immigration officers, detained in a small room and questioned about trying to work illegally in London.

Things only got worse from there.

Steve and Bev Southcott want the U.K. government to apologize for detaining their son twice. (Zak Markan/CBC)

Southcott said he was put on a van for nearly seven hours to a detention centre that "resembled a prison."

"[It was] small. There was a toilet and sink and two bunk beds. I shared the room with a man from Bangladesh, but yeah, the living conditions weren't great," he said, adding that he was given a cellphone that only received calls.

Southcott said he spent two days there while back home in Nova Scotia, his parents were panicking.

"He said, 'Mom I've been detained.' and I was like, 'What! You're going from a Commonwealth country to a Commonwealth country,'" said Bev Southcott.

Denied entry a 2nd time

Southcott was eventually sent back to Canada on the next available WestJet flight on Feb. 26.

He tried to enter England again a few weeks later on March 14.

This time, Southcott made sure everything was in order. He had a return ticket, the rest of his flights around Europe were booked, he'd signed up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service and printed out all of his documents in case his phone was confiscated.

His parents said he even had British relatives ready to vouch for him.

"I was pretty nervous," said Southcott. "I didn't want to get sent home again and I didn't more importantly want to stay another night in [a] facility like I had the first time."

But when he arrived, he was once again detained and sent to a detention facility.

"I'm sure there's worse things in the world but as far as I know, that's probably the worst living conditions I've ever had," he said.

Southcott arrived back in Canada for a second time on March 15.

Not in country for legitimate reasons, says U.K. government

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the U.K. government said Southcott failed to prove he was in the country for legitimate reasons.

"Border Force officers can refuse individuals entry to the UK if they are not satisfied that they are a genuine visitor who will leave at the end of their stay," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"All cases are carefully considered, including an individual's personal circumstances."

The spokesperson said during his first attempt Southcott "was not able to state when he intended to return home. He also stated that he intended to seek employment while in the UK." 

When he returned to Gatwick this month, "he was unable to explain satisfactorily what his intentions were in the UK. He was also unable to demonstrate that he had sufficient funds to fund the whole of his trip."

Border Force officers can refuse individuals entry to the UK if they are not satisfied that they are a genuine visitor who will leave at the end of their stay.- U.K. government

His dad, Steve Southcott, said they were in touch with Global Affairs Canada, which suggested their son bypass England completely.

He's now waiting in Toronto for a flight to Reykjavik, Iceland.

"I find it strange because we still hear about his friends and other young people that we know … who have gone to Europe with a 100 bucks in their pocket, with no plan and are still travelling around," said Steve Southcott.

In an email, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Philip Hannan said the government is aware a Canadian citizen was denied entry.

"It is the sole prerogative of every country or territory to determine who is allowed to enter or exit. Canadian consular officials cannot intervene should Canadian citizens be refused entry," Hannan said.

'They should apologize to him'

The Southcott's partly blame the airline for not telling them they needed a return ticket.

In an email to CBC News, a WestJet spokesperson said they understand it must have been frustrating, but said it's the guest's responsibility to know the entry requirements for the country where they are travelling to.

"Guests often travel one way on one airline and back on another," the statement said.

The Southcotts say WestJet should have warned them that entering England without a return ticket could have their son sent back. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Southcott's parents say they want their son's fingerprints and photo removed from government records, and for the U.K. to welcome him back on their dime.

"They should apologize to him," said Steve Southcott. "He's a 19-year-old kid who wants to travel Europe, simple as that."

Even without an apology, Southcott isn't giving up. He flies to Iceland on Sunday and plans to continue on to France from there.

"I didn't go to school this year, so now is really the only time in the foreseeable future that I will really have time and money to travel like this, but I mean a lot of money has already been wasted on flights and hostels that I booked," said Southcott.

But he said the whole ordeal won't ruin his trip.

"It will probably make me appreciate it a little more, I'd say."

About the Author

Emma Smith

Reporter

Emma Smith is a web writer and radio producer from B.C. who fell in love with the East Coast. She's interested in reporting on rural communities and Indigenous issues.

With files from CBC's Information Morning