Therese Coffey criticised for ‘truly heartless’ response to asylum seeker’s death

PUBLISHED: 21:05 02 September 2020 | UPDATED: 21:19 02 September 2020

Therese Coffey has been criticised for a ‘truly heartless response’ to questions about the death of an asylum seeker. Photograph: Sky News.

Therese Coffey has been criticised for a ‘truly heartless response’ to questions about the death of an asylum seeker. Photograph: Sky News.

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Therese Coffey has been criticised for a ‘truly heartless response’ to questions about the death of an asylum seeker.

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The work and pensions secretary was asked about the death of Mercy Baguma - who was discovered by police in Govan, Scotland next to her starving baby on August 22.

She was asked by reporters about it after reports hit the media but refused to take questions, before telling Sky News she had never been approached on the subject.


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Coffey had been asked about the matter days before but insisted it was not a topic for her to be asked about.

She interrupted a PA reporter to tell them: “I appreciate you want to talk about other matters, but they’re not really matters for me.”

When asked if she would at least hear the question, Coffey added: “I’m conscious that there are some issues, but we really are here today to talk about pensions and climate change.”

The minister denied being asked about the Ugandan woman’s death and failed to express sympathy in relation to the incident when questioned by Sky’s Kay Burley days later.

She said: “I haven’t actually been asked about this lady before, so I don’t know where that’s come from.

“I’m afraid I don’t know the individual details of this lady.

“I don’t know the exact ins and outs, I know it happened in Glasgow fairly recently.

“When people are in very difficult situations like that and they’re looking for help from the Government, there are ways they can access that help.”

The apparent lack of compassion from the minister has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum.

Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South West, said: ‪“This is beyond shameful from the Tory minister on the heartbreaking case of Mercy Baguma.

‪“Rather than addressing the high-profile case and her government’s callous asylum policies that have pushed countless people further into hardship, Therese Coffey instead chose to dodge the details, act as though it had not come up before, and that she wasn’t aware of a story that has been in the press for weeks and raised by MPs.

‪“Her comments – or lack of – on the tragic difficulties facing Mercy Baguma only shine a light on a hostile and failed Tory immigration system that is simply treating human beings as numbers on a screen.”

Scottish Greens Glasgow City councillor Kim Long added: “It’s quite something for a senior government minister to go on live TV and claim not to be aware of this, and further shows no remorse for the cruel consequences of their dehumanising rules.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “Therese Coffey’s response to this harrowing incident was truly heartless.

“She couldn’t even summons the humanity to empathise with or apologise for the horrific circumstances Mercy Baguma was put in.

“This is not the first time she was asked about Mercy’s death and it’s disgraceful she didn’t make the effort to learn more.”

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