British man blocked from entering UK with his wife discovers his house has been transformed into a cannabis farm

May Bulman

A man whose wife has been blocked from entering the UK has discovered his house was destroyed by a fire after it was turned into a cannabis farm by suspected illegal immigrants.

The blaze left Michael Grieve, 47, on the verge of bankruptcy while he remains in Ireland with his wife after the Home Office refused to grant her a visa.

The graphic designer's South African wife, Athena Grieve, was refused re-entry despite the couple being married in the UK less than two years ago.

They have been residing in Ireland, where her passport was accepted, while they attempt to appeal the decision.

Mr Grieve discovered his house in Northumberland had been destroyed by illegal drug farmers while he was forced to remain in the Republic of Ireland after the Home Office refused to grant his wife a visa

The chair of the Labour Party, Ian Lavery, who has been supporting the family, accused the Home Office of “continually frustrating” what he said should be a straight forward case, due to its “over-zealous” hostile immigration policies.

The couple had made arrangements to let their house while they stayed in Ireland temporarily while they prepared Ms Grieve's settlement visa application for the UK.

In March, they were told the police had discovered a cannabis farm at the property.

Mr Grieve, who has an eight-year-old daughter in the UK, told The Independent he believed the government's immigration system was "not fit for purpose," and accused the Home Office of misusing the visa application system to prevent people of ethnic minorities from being in the UK, while illegal immigrants were able to commit crimes without consequence.

“Since our application, the Home Office have gone to extraordinary, unmistakeable and yet unfathomable lengths to prevent my wife from entering the country to be with myself and my daughter,” he said.

Michael Grieve and his wife Athena Grieve on their wedding day, with his eight-year-old daughter

"We have ploughed almost £3,000 into our application and wasted 15 months of our lives - all to no avail and with no valid reasoning forthcoming for our refusal.

“Meanwhile, criminal activity on the part of foreign drug farmers has led to a devastating fire at my once beautiful home. For this to be going on at the same time it's absolutely unfathomable to me - it is heart-breaking.”

Mr Lavery, who is the couple’s MP in Ashington, wrote a letter to the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, in April to bring attention to Mr Grieve's case, but has received no response.

He told The Independent he had been disappointed by the situation and shocked to have received no response from the Home Office, accusing the department of “continually frustrating what should be a straightforward process”.

Mr Grieve's living room before the fire
Mr Grieve's living room after the fire

“Whilst the tragedy of the fire at the Grieves’ home should be blamed on nobody but the criminals who ultimately caused the devastation, the delays of the Home Office and the government’s over-zealous hostile immigration policy has no doubt been a contributing factor to the ongoing misery and anguish of my constituent and his family,” he said.

Ms Grieve, 28, was denied by the Home Office on the grounds there would be no “unjustifiably harsh” consequences for her and her family if she were unable to re-enter the UK.

She said: "All we ever wanted, and are still ever so eager for, is the chance for a normal family life. We worked hard, took risks and did everything we were told just to be together.

“To be refused entry to the UK together without any real justification is both baffling and heart-breaking. We just want to be able to hold our daughter again, together, and tell her how much we love her.

“Despite everything that has transpired, we are certain that real, positive change can happen if enough people are made aware of our story.”

Commenting on the cannabis farm, a Northumbria Police spokesperson said: “At around 12.54am on Tuesday, March 13, police received a request for assistance at a house fire on First Row in Ashington.

Police and the fire service attended the scene and the fire was extinguished. It was brought to the attention of police that a cannabis farm had been discovered at the property.

“It is believed that the fire could have been caused by an electrical fault relating to equipment used for the cannabis plants. Inquiries are ongoing to identify the offenders responsible.”

The Home Office said it could not comment on the specifics of Ms Grieve's case because the case was ongoing.

A spokesperson said: “All applications for settlement visas are carefully considered on their individual merits, in line with the immigration rules, and are based on evidence provided by the applicant."