As the report on the Home Office Windrush scandal is finally published, the Guardian revisits the victims’ stories
Published on The Guardian, Mar 19, 2020
Sarah O’Connor, died aged 57
‘They made me feel like I’m not British’
One of the most vocal Windrush campaigners, O’Connor died in September 2018. Officials mistakenly classified her as being in the country illegally, even though she had lived here for 51 years, since she was six. Unable to work, and not eligible for benefits, she had to sell her car and clothes. The scandal reminded her of the racism she faced in the 1970s. “It feels like it has become a hostile country again.”
Hubert Howard, died aged 62
‘They messed up my life’
Howard died in November 2019 before receiving an apology or compensation. He spent the last two months of his life fighting for British citizenship from an intensive care bed. He was granted it two weeks before he died, and 59 years after he arrived, aged three, from Jamaica in 1960. He worked all his life until 2012 when he was wrongly labelled an illegal immigrant by the Home Office and sacked from his job.
Richard (Wes) Stewart, died aged 74
‘It was blatant discrimination’
The former Middlesex bowler was 10 when he moved from Jamaica to London in 1955 to live with his older sister, who was working as a nurse. He was told he was an overstayer in 2012 and spent seven years in immigration limbo, unable to afford the £1,400 fee for naturalisation. He had hoped to visit his mother’s grave in Jamaica, but died in June 2019.
Paulette Wilson, 63
‘I felt like I didn’t exist’
Wilson, a former cook at the House of Commons, arrived in the UK in 1968, aged 10. Almost 50 years later she was told she was here illegally, arrested twice and prevented from working. In October 2017 she was sent to an immigration detention centre for a week, then taken to Heathrow for deportation to Jamaica. A last-minute intervention from her MP and a charity prevented her removal.
Anthony Bryan, 62
‘They could have treated me better after 52 years’
Bryan was wrongly held for five weeks in immigration removal centres. In November 2017, immigration officers arrived at his home with a battering ram, arrested him and booked him on a flight back to Jamaica, the country he left when he was eight in 1965 and had not visited since. After his case was highlighted in the Guardian, officials acknowledged he was in the UK legally.
Jocelyn John, 58
“They ruined my life completely”
In November 2016, John agreed to a “voluntary” removal to Grenada, the country she had left, aged four, 53 years earlier. The former Ritz chambermaid was wrongly classified as living in the UK illegally in 2009; she lost her job and spent years sleeping on relatives’ sofas and floors. Despite 75 pages of evidence proving a lifetime spent here, the Home Office said she faced detention unless she left the UK, so eventually she agreed to self-deport.
Sylvester Marshall, 65
‘It’s grossly unfair’
Marshall, who we previously wrote about using the pseudonym Albert Thompson, arrived from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973 to join his mother, an NHS nurse. After 44 years working as a mechanic he was denied free radiotherapy cancer treatmentwhen he could not show proof that he was in the UK legally, and was told he would have to pay £54,000. He was made homeless by the council. After his case was highlighted by the Guardian, he was given the treatment he needed, and has recovered.
Valerie Baker, 68
‘I think we all need a personal apology’
Baker arrived from Jamaica in 1955, aged four. She worked her whole adult life until chronic back problems forced early retirement. In April 2017, the Home Office told her she had no legal basis to remain in the UK and if she didn’t leave within seven days, she could be deported. Further letters told Baker her disability allowance had been stopped and she needed to return “overpayments” of £33,590.
Bevis Smith, 64
‘I thought I would die’
Smith arrived in London in 1972, aged 16. More than 40 years later, he was admitted to hospital with a brain aneurysm, where staff told him he may have to cover the £5,000 bill. While there, he lost his home because of his “illegal” residency status and he was ineligible for a bed in a state-funded homeless hostel so he was discharged to the streets. Eventually a bed was found for him, and he spent years trying to prove his residency, until in January 2018 the Home Office confirmed he had indefinite leave to remain. He is still waiting for compensation.
Elwaldo Romeo, 65
‘It scares the living daylights out of you’
In February 2018, Romeo received a letter from the Home Office citing the 1971 Immigration Act and telling him he was “liable to be detained”. It added he had “NOT been given leave to enter the United Kingdom” and offered “support on returning home”, despite the fact he had moved to the UK from Antigua 59 years earlier, aged four.
Dexter Bristol, died aged 57
‘He died being denied an immigration status which was rightfully his’
Bristol moved from Grenada to the UK in 1968, aged eight, to join his mother who was working as an NHS nurse, and he spent the rest of his life in the UK. He was sacked from his cleaning job in 2016 because he had no passport, was denied benefits and became depressed. Bristol died while still trying to prove he was in the country legally.
Leighton Joseph Robinson, 60
‘I lost my house’
Robinson’s children took him to Jamaica for his 50th birthday – his first visit since arriving in Britain aged six – but on his return he was told he was not allowed back into the UK because he had no visa. He was stuck in Jamaica for 21 months, until a solicitor helped him. On his return, he was told he owed £4,500 for unpaid rent and council tax. He became homeless.
Michael Braithwaite, 68
‘I almost fell apart with the stress’
Braithwaite arrived with his family from Barbados in 1961, aged eight. He lost his job as a special needs teaching assistant after the primary school where he had worked for more than 15 years deemed him an “illegal immigrant”, despite the fact that he had lived here for more than 50 years. “It made me feel like an alien.”
Winston Robinson, 62
‘I didn’t apply to get into this mess, but now I have to apply to get out of it’
Robinson arrived from Jamaica, aged nine, in 1966. He was sacked from his job as an ambulance driver in 2016 because he had no passport. The Home Office wrote to him, saying: “According to our records, you have no lawful basis to be in the UK. You should take steps to leave the UK immediately.” When he lost his job, Robinson was told he was not eligible for benefits payments and he became homeless when he was unable to pay his rent.
Judy Griffith, 65
‘I’ve paid taxes here all my life’
Griffith joined her parents in the UK in 1963. After 52 years, a jobcentre employee told her she was an “illegal immigrant” and, because her passport with evidence of leave to remain had been stolen, she was unable to work or travel. Griffith could not visit her sick mother in Barbados in 2016, or attend her funeral. Without work she got into significant arrears on her flat in London, and narrowly escaped eviction. She is still waiting for compensation.
Glenda Caesar, 59
‘I was selling old trainers on eBay to survive’
Caesar was sacked from her job as an administrator in a GP’s practice in 2009, because the Home Office refused to believe she was living in the UK legally, despite the fact she had been here since 1961, when she arrived aged six months. Caesar was denied unemployment benefits and her daughter, who is deaf, shared her disability benefits with her mother to help her buy food.
Renford McIntyre, 66
‘I am very, very angry’
Having arrived in 1968, aged 14, McIntyre was working as a driver for the NHS when he was sacked in 2014 because he had no documents proving he had a right to live in the UK. He discovered he was not eligible for benefits, and became homeless, forced to sleep in an industrial unit in Dudley. He had worked and paid taxes in the UK for more than 35 years.
Gladstone Wilson, 64
‘Our forefathers did a lot for this country’
Wilson arrived in Britain in 1968, aged 12, to join his father, a headteacher in the West Midlands. He worked as a hospital security guard but lost his job when the Home Office classified him as an “illegal immigrant”; he faced severe financial hardship and missed his mother’s funeral in Jamaica because he could not get a passport.
Margaret O’Brien, 71
‘I felt like dirt’
O’Brien moved from Canada to Wolverhampton in 1971, started a family and worked for the local council for more than 25 years as a dinner lady, meals on wheels driver, lollipop lady and cleaner. In 2015 she was told her disability payments had been suspended because she was in the country illegally, and the Home Office told her she faced a six-month prison sentence or deportation to Canada.
Ivan Anglin, 84
‘I was like a lamb to the slaughter’
After he arrived back from a trip to Jamaica for his sister’s funeral in 1998, immigration officials gave Anglin 48 hours to pack up 35 years of life in the UK and return to Heathrow to be deported. He only had time to say goodbye to one of his daughters. He was exiled for 20 years, missing the births of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the death and funeral of his only son.
Vernon Vanriel, 65
‘It has been hell’
Boxer Vanriel was trapped in destitution in Jamaica for 13 years after being refused a visa to travel back to the UK, where he had lived for 43 years, since moving there aged six. He survived on the streets before ending up in a roadside shack with no electricity. Following Guardian publicity, a first-class British Airways ticket to London was couriered to him by the British high commission.
Tony Perry, 64
‘It was like a punch in the stomach’
Perry arrived in Britain in 1959 from Jamaica. He served in the navy, later became a social worker for Haringey council, and also worked as a pastor. He was refused a passport in 2001 and told by the Home Office: “We are sorry to inform you that you are not a British citizen.” He was devastated. “I served on Her Majesty’s behalf. We were invited here, and then thrown away again, like rubbish.”
George Poleon, 66
‘I can’t work now’
George Poleon came to the UK from St Lucia in 1968, aged 15. He worked for 47 years and assumed he was British until he tried to claim benefits in 2014. He was told he was ineligible and became homeless, sleeping in the foyer of Homerton hospital, east London. He found it impossible to persuade officials he was here legally, despite having more than 37 years of national insurance, tax and medical records.
Eddie Lindsay, died aged 67
‘He was frightened of being arrested’
Lindsay arrived in England from Jamaica in 1960, aged 10. He was sacked by Tesco in 2012 because he had no British passport. The fact he had lived in the UK for more than 50 years made no difference. The lack of documentation meant he was unable to marry the mother of his two daughters. He died in October 2017.
David Jameson (not his real name), 60
‘My life is in ruins’
Jameson moved to London with his grandmother in 1966, when he was six. The former builder was deported in June 2013 and twice tried to kill himself while in the detention centre awaiting deportation. In Kingston he became homeless and was forced to sleep in derelict buildings. “It is extremely painful.”
Roy Harrison, 41
‘The Home Office just wants me to lie down and die’
Harrison is living in a bin shed in south London and is not allowed to work as a gardener. He moved from Jamaica at the age of six. Having been convicted of theft, a crime he says he did not commit, the Home Office is trying to deport him. “It really kills me that the Home Office wants to take me and put me somewhere I do not know.”
Gbolagade Ibukun-Oluwa, 59
‘I am not the person I was’
Ibukun-Oluwa has been homeless for 12 years, and is sheltering most nights in cafes at Heathrow airport, occasionally managing to sleepin his wheelchair. Before a serious car accident, he worked in the UK for decades, having arrived from Nigeria in 1981. He has indefinite leave to reman but lost the documents and has spent years trying to persuade the Home Office he is here legally.
Andrew Bynoe, 59
‘I felt crushed and wanted to call it a day’
The son of a nurse and bus conductor, Bynoe arrived in London from Barbados in 1978, aged 12. Sacked from his job because he could not prove he was in England legally, he was consequently unable to pay his rent and became homeless in August 2019, sometimes sleeping in his son’s van or on night buses. He has lost his hair from the stress and has contemplated suicide. He is still waiting for emergency help.
Hyacinth Naylor, 70
‘It was hell’
British Airways staff blocked Naylor from boarding a plane home after a trip to Tobago, leaving her stranded there for six months, struggling to persuade officials that Britain was her home. The secretary had come to the UK from Jamaica in 1960, aged 10, but was forced into early retirement in 2013, unable to prove to employers that she was in the UK legally.
Donald Biggs, 59
‘I just want justice’
When he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2016, Biggs had to pay a £500 NHS immigration health surcharge to receive treatment after his applications for a British passport and citizenship were rejected. He had lived in Britain since arriving at from Jamaica in 1965, aged five, and worked as a social worker for Manchester city council for 25 years.
Courtney Lawrence, 25
‘I was born here, I haven’t left the country’
London-born Courtney faced homelessness with her two-year-old son after she was denied emergency housing when she couldn’t produce a passport to prove she was eligible for council support. Her parents arrived in the UK as small children and never formally naturalised as British citizens, so neither had a British passport. Although also born in London, her son’s immigration status is also uncertain.
Pauline Clear, 69
‘I came back in a wheelchair’
Clear arrived in 1960, aged 11, and worked as a social worker. She almost died after being prevented from returning to the UK from a holiday in Jamaica. Having thought the official was joking when he said she couldn’t get on the plane, it took 18 months before she was allowed home, during which time she lost her job and her 14-year-old daughter faced eviction. Unable to access diabetes medication in Jamaica, she was admitted to hospital twice.
Whitfield Francis, 60
‘It’s destroying people’s lives’
Francis came from Jamaica in 1959 with his two sisters when he was about seven, to join their parents. He worked for the Ministry of Defence, repairing Royal Navy ships but after being made redundant in 2014 he found no one would employ himbecause he had no proof of his right to live and work in the UK. His sisters faced similar problems.
Briggs Levi Maynard, 91
‘I was numb … I felt cold’
Maynard arrived in London in 1957, and took a job as a bus conductor; after a lifetime working here, he retired on a state pension in 1993. He had travelled on his Barbadian passport many times without problems but in 2017, at Bridgetown airport, he was told he could not return to the UK because he had neither residency nor records of his immigration status.
Lloyd Grant, 61
‘There should be more support’
Grant arrived in the UK in 1970, aged 11, and later worked for London Transport and Hackney council. After losing his passport, the Home Office said they could not trace any records for him. This mean he was unable to work or claim benefits and had to ask his siblings for money; he became homeless and feared deportation. He has received no compensation.
Junior Green, 63
‘You can’t put a price on missing your mother’s funeral’
Having lived in the UK since he was five months old, in 2017 Green visited his dying mother in Jamaica, to where his parents had returned, but was refused readmission to the UK. He was eventually granted a temporary visa but the delay in getting this meant he missed his mother’s funeral, which was held back in the UK.
Jeffrey Miller, 63
‘It is always at the back of your mind’
Miller came from Grenada in 1966, aged nine, on his brother’s passport. He was aware he needed to naturalise formally but the process was expensive and he was worried he did not have all the documents required. He decided instead to avoid all contact with the state, but spent years worrying that he was going to be arrested by immigration enforcement.
Kenneth Williams, 60
Williams arrived in Britain in 1969 on his sibling’s passport. In 2015 the council he had been working for via an agency refused him direct employment without a passport. He was suspended on full pay but then told to leave. He had a mortgage and could not access benefits, so had to rely on family and friends. He was finally given a card confirming he had indefinite leave to remain in August 2017.
Pauline Pennant, 70
‘It’s like a death sentence’
A British citizen with a UK passport, Pennant had retired to Jamaica after working as an NHS nurse for almost 30 years. When she became seriously ill during a visit to London for her son’s wedding she was told she had secondary bone cancer, referred to a specialist doctor and handed a £4,388 bill with officials saying she was not entitled to free NHS healthcare.
Winston Walker, 55
‘To be told you don’t exist, it’s overwhelming’
Walker arrived from Jamaica, aged 18 months, in 1966. He was refused a driving licence in 2008. After contacting an MP for help he was told he did not “exist on any data in this country”. He lost his job as a security guard, and was out of work for eight years, becoming destitute, homeless and forced to beg on the streets. “I was convinced that I was an illegal immigrant; I got frightened.”
Icilda Williams, 85
‘I want to see members of my family who are sick’
Williams moved to the UK in 1962 and worked as an NHS paediatric nurse for 30 years before retiring to Jamaica. In 2014, she was refused applications to return to visit her children in England. “I don’t understand it, I lived and worked in Great Britain nearly all my life. I looked after the country’s children,” she said. “We are a very close family; I’m scared I’ll never see them all again.”
Lydden Lewis, 70
‘I was born under the British flag’
Lewis arrived in the UK, aged 11, in 1961, a year before Jamaica became independent. He tried for years to get a British passport but was unable to pay the £900 fee. When he visited the Windrush taskforce headquarters in 2018 his original passport was seized, with officials saying they needed to investigate spent criminal convictions dating back 40 years.
Edward Bromfield, 64
‘I am angry, but what can I do?’
Bromfield was evicted by Haringey council in 2018 because he was unable to prove he was living in the country legally, despite having arrived as a child 47 years earlier. When he was evicted his clothes, possessions and the gardening tools he used for work were destroyed. He slept in a friend’s shed for six months and applied for the government’s hardship fund but was unsuccessful.
Donald Thompson, 66
‘My ancestors were slaves on a British plantation’
Thompson arrived in the UK from Jamaica in 1967, aged 12, to join his mother who was working as an NHS nurse. He lived most of his adult life in the country and tried repeatedly to apply for citizenship but was rejected. He was held in detention for a month and threatened with deportation. “This has been a great injustice which will be written about in history books.”
Noel Smith, 59
‘I didn’t see my dad before he died’
Smith grew up with his grandparents in Jamaica while his parents worked in the UK. They struggled to bring him to England. After receiving short-term visas in the 1990s, Smith was allowed to stay for six months in 2002. He was required to sign in with the Home Office every month but missed an appointment due to sickness. At his next visit he was deported and told he could not return for five years. During this time his father died.
Herman Campbell, 53
‘This is an insult’
Campbell arrived in the UK in 1975, aged eight, but when he applied for a British passport in the 1990s, the Home Office had no record of him. Without the necessary documentation he had problems securing housing and in 2017 was refused re-entry to the UK after going on holiday to Turkey on his Jamaican passport. He described the £250 sum he was offered in compensation as “offensive”.
Melvin Collins, 74
‘I will never trust the English again’
A former Midlands youth worker, Collins was stranded in Jamaica in 2015 when his passport was revoked without explanation at the end of a holiday. He was stuck living alone in a flat owned by his 92-year-old aunt, Lena, 7,400 miles from his daughter, son, brother, sister, nephews and nieces in Britain.
Nick Broderick, 65
‘I’m still tense and nervous’
Broderick arrived in the UK in the early 1960s, aged three, with his mother, an NHS nurse. He was sacked from his job as a driver in 2016 after immigration enforcement made checks. When told he was going to be deported, Broderick made plans to kill himself.
Jashwa Moses, died aged 64
‘I’ve never felt as if I was accepted by the system’
The reggae musician, who arrived in Bristol in 1968, aged 12, died of cancer about a month after winning his long battle for citizenship, too late to travel back to Jamaica. The father of five told the BBC he had been unable to travel for decades for fear of being denied re-entry to the UK. He never got his final wish of one last holiday “just to be free” before his death last year.
‘I’ve had a tough time, really tough’
Lindsay faced deportation as he struggled to prove his immigration status, despite having lived in the UK for 45 years. After losing his Jamaican passport in 1990, he could not get a new one as he had no other form of relevant ID. The Devon chef was stripped of his assets and faced a long battle to stay in the country.