Although it is was not quite a case of radar surveillance and Rapier missiles on standby, the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) refused entry to Santa Claus entry to an immigration detention centre at Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire.
Rev Canon James Rosenthal, who also happens to be a world authority on St Nicholas of Myra , had resolved to bring festive cheer to some children who are at the bottom of the pile of British society - those caught up in the British asylum system.
Rev Rosenthal arrived at Yarl’s Wood dressed in a red robe and long white beard, clutching a bishop's mitre and crook, carrying presents donated by congregations of several London churches. Sadly he never got past the security personnel who guard the perimeter fence, despite gently protested that he was not a security threat.
Then as St Nicholas, accompanied by the Rev Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, canon theologian at Westminster Abbey, attempted to bless the gifts, the increasingly angry security guards called the police. The resulting impasse has been videotaped but I cannot find it yet on You Tube.
"St Nick has never been turned away from anywhere before," Rosenthal said. "So I was extremely disappointed not to be able to hand deliver the gifts to the children detained at Yarl's Wood. I hope the kids realise that they will be firmly in my prayers."
Serco, the company responsible for management of the centre for UKBAm also refused permission for the two clerics to enter the centre to visit two refugee families later the same day, as it had previously agreed. They were handed letters from Dawn Elaine, contracts manager at Yarl's Wood, saying permission had been revoked because of "concerns about your conduct".
According to the Telegraph report the presents were eventually loaded into an unmarked van by staff who refused to provide a name, number or receipt for the gifts. Mr Rosental asked one "guard" his name and the man said "write down 'Father Christmas'".
It is estimated that 1,000 children are detained every year. Last week the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, alongside leading GPs, psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health, warned the detention of children and their families caused "significant harm" and should be ended without delay.
Alan Kittle, Director of Detention Services for the UK Border Agency said: "UKBA already has procedures in place to ensure any children held in detention over the Christmas period receive a present and get to see Santa."
To be honest this was a ridiculous situation. Rosenthal and his associate had an agreed meeting. Although the garb and the presents were a bit of a deviation it is not exactly the sort of situation that is going to cover UKBA in glory!
Whatever your view on asylum seekers the detention of children is a disgrace. Yarl’s Wood may not be a prison but it is surely no place for children