The father of a Leicester City Academy graduate claims his footballer son is being “falsely imprisoned” against his will in a Covid-19 quarantine hotel.
Ben Starkie, whose family home is in Wistow, near Kibworth, is currently holed up in a room at the Holiday Inn at London’s Heathrow Airport having returned to the UK after representing Tanzania in a the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations.
The 18-year-old, who is a professional with German fourth division outfit FC Wilhelmshaven after spending several years as a young Fox, was invited to play for the country of his mother’s birth in the tournament, held in Mauritania.
His father Richard, 79, said his son has effectively been under lock and key since arriving back in the UK on Saturday following a 60-hour round trip home via Turkey and Tanzania.
“Ben hasn’t committed a crime but has been imprisoned without trial,” he said.
Tanzania is currently one of 33 countries on the Government’s so-called ‘Red List’, meaning any British national who has “been in or through” the country in the previous 10 days must quarantine in a government approved hotel for 10 days.
Mr Starkie said: “Ben left the UK on January 23 for Tanzania for training prior to the competition – and the country’s designation as part of the Red List.
“He left with the team for Mauritania on February 12, arriving the following day – meaning that he had been outside Tanzania for the required time.”
Ben departed Mauritania last Wednesday, February 24, after the team failed to progress in the tournament, eventually arriving in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, in the early hours of Friday.
Having remained in the airport’s transit lounge ahead of his Ethiopian Airlines flight to London, he was looking forward to returning home to Leicestershire, where he expected to self-isolate for 10 days.
“An hour before his flight, which was non-refundable, he was shocked to be told by the airline that he must book and pay for a government approved hotel in London costing £1,750,” said Mr Starkie.
“This is an eighteen-year-old boy who has no income, away from home with only about £250 in his bank account, being expected to book a hotel in London for an outrageous amount of money when he hadn’t even entered Tanzania.”
He added: “Neither his Tanzanian nor his British Passport have been stamped as having entered Tanzania so technically he has not been in that country.”
With his flight scheduled for 4.45pm that evening, Mr Starkie said Ben was in a “complete panic”, not wanting to miss his £350 flight and being “stuck in Tanzania with no money and nowhere to stay”.
After his parents realised they didn’t have the money available to help, the family had to turn to friends to help raise the emergency cash.
Ben made the flight and arrived at Heathrow on Saturday morning, February 27.
Mr Starkie said: “In order to comply with the rules we had also booked a Leicester City Council Covid test in Wigston, at 11.50am immediately after his arrival back home. “
“But when he eventually arrived at Heathrow, having been travelling for a total of around 60 hours without proper sleep, he was immediately detained by border officials.
“This despite having explained that he hadn’t been in Tanzania but only in transit and that he had been playing in an official and prestigious international football competition for the Tanzanian National Team.
“It should be noted that he had been tested many times in Mauritania during the tournament to comply with FIFA regulations.
“Ben hadn’t committed any crime but was put, what can only be described as, under arrest and taken to the Holiday Inn, Heathrow and effectively imprisoned.
“The border officials didn’t even have the grace to contact us, his parents, to advise us of his predicament. We think this is deplorable.”
Mr Starkie said that although Ben is a professional footballer under contract to FC Wilhelmshaven he is only paid £450 per month during the season.
“He has not been paid during the winter months while they do not play, hence his not having much money in his account,” he said.
Mr Starkie, who was meant to have undergone hip replacement surgery on Monday (March 1), has contacted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office through Neil O’Brien, Conservative MP for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, demanding his son’s “release”, a full refund and compensation.
Adding insult to injury, he said that the authorities have ruled that his 10 day quarantine is from Sunday and not the previous day when he’d arrived at the hotel.
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“This is another injustice,” he said.
According to the official Gov.uk website, what travellers need to do when heading home depends on where they travel in the 10 days before arriving back in England.
It states: “If you travel in or through a country on the banned travel list (sometimes called the ‘red list’) in those 10 days you will need to quarantine in a managed quarantine hotel.
“If you do not travel in or through a country on the banned travel list in those 10 days you will need to quarantine in the place you’re staying.”
Mr Starkie added that, although the £1,750 hotel bill includes a daily breakfast, those under quarantine are told they need to pay another £100 up front to order further meals.
“In the meantime, Ben says he is not allowed even to leave his room, even for exercise, which must, amongst all the other injustices above, be against his human rights,” he said. “This is true imprisonment, how else can this situation be described?”
Mr Starkie is also bemused as to why his son is being treated differently to other professional footballers.
“Various football teams have been to other countries to play in international competitions and have returned to the UK without being required to quarantine,” he said.
“Ben has returned having been playing in an international competition too, so should be treated in exactly the same manner.
“The whole thing is utterly ludicrous.”