A member of a Tasmanian community choir was refused entry to the  United Kingdom on Tuesday and deported because she was deemed to be trying to enter under false pretences — of being a  tourist when she was an entertainer.

Maureen Lum was planning to sing in the back row of The Tasmanian Grassroots Union Choir, in a one-off, one-hour, public performance for which there was no fee, during a four-week holiday in the UK.

Lum was detained on arrival from Australia Crikey has learned, body searched, interviewed, refused leave to enter and sent home on the next available flight. She is due back in Hobart today.

She fell foul of the law when immigration officers at London’s  Stanstead Airport ruled that she should have applied in advance for a visa as an entertainer.

Lum travelled ahead of  the July 16 performance by the choir at the Tolpuddle Festival in Dorset. She rang  choir founder and former Unions Tasmania secretary Simon Cocker, while waiting for her flight back to tell him what had happened to her.

Cocker told Crikey she had sought a tourist visa on arrival.

Questioned about her visit by an immigration officer, she said she was going to sing at the Tolpuddle Festival. She was then told she was ineligible for a tourist visa, could not apply for an entertainer’s visa at the point of entry, subjected to a body search and deported.

“It’s quite incredible that Maureen was deported,” said an angry Cocker. “She was treated as if she was trying to sneak in and take up residence.”

Lum is one of 34 choir members who raised the money to go to the  annual festival, which commemorates a group local agricultural  labourers who banded together nearly 200 years ago, to stand up for their rights. Known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, several were transported to Botany Bay, while their leader, George Loveless, was transported to Van  Diemen’s Land.

Cocker researched his story and is co-author of a 60-minute folk opera, Loveless in Hobart Town, which the choir was invited to perform at the festival. The folk opera is a triumphant story against injustice and draconian laws used by those in power — whoever, wherever — against the vulnerable. Public outcry and a storm of protest caused the king to pardon Loveless and he returned to England a free man.

Lum’s ordeal will be raised in the House of Commons, at the behest of the British Trade Union Congress,  by a key figure in the Labor opposition. And Tasmanian Labor Senator Lisa Singh will raise it with the British High Commissioner in Canberra.

The Cameron government changed the UK’s immigration laws in May and amateur performing groups were brought under new visa regulations for entertainers. A list of big festivals, such as the Glastonbury opera festival, was drawn up, for which amateurs could be given  entertainer’s visas under certain conditions.

The small union-organised Tolpuddle Festival wasn’t on the list and  choir members had no idea they could end up being sentenced to transportation back to Tasmania.

“Going to Tolpuddle is about a cultural celebration of our common history with unionists in the UK and we were very excited to be  invited,” said Cocker, who is due to fly out with other choir members this weekend.

“Maureen has been denied entry to the bloody country that we share a queen with. We are all in shock at her harsh treatment. The decision may have been technically correct — as it was with George Loveless — but it was  unreasonable and unjust .”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey