Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson dies aged 64

24 July 2020, 08:07

Paulette Wilson has died aged 64
Paulette Wilson has died aged 64. Picture: Getty

By Maddie Goodfellow

A Windrush campaigner has died one month after delivering a petition to Downing Street signed by more than 130,000 people calling for action to address the failings which led to the scandal.

Paulette Wilson died unexpectedly age 64, according to a statement from her daughter.

Natalie Barnes said she found her mother early on Thursday, and she appeared to have died in her sleep.

Ms Barnes said: "My mum was a fighter and she was ready to fight for anyone. She was an inspiration to many people. She was my heart and my soul and I loved her to pieces."

Ms Wilson, from Wolverhampton, came to Britain from Jamaica aged 10 in the late 1960s.

She spent two years under the threat of deportation and spent some time in a detention centre before being told she could stay in the UK in 2017.

Labour MPs David Lammy (centre) and Dawn Butler (left) with members of the Windrush generation (left to right) Anthony Bryan, Sarah O'Connor, Paulette Wilson, Sylvester Marshall and  Elwaldo Romeo
Labour MPs David Lammy (centre) and Dawn Butler (left) with members of the Windrush generation (left to right) Anthony Bryan, Sarah O'Connor, Paulette Wilson, Sylvester Marshall and Elwaldo Romeo. Picture: PA

She said at the time that an apology from then-home secretary Amber Rudd was "a good thing" but added: "What about all the other people who were sent away before my case became big?"

She went on: "It's just upsetting to think that an ordinary person like me could go through something like that. I'm still going through hell at the moment.

"It's really hard for me to put it in words... I'm still hurt, I'm still hurt, that's all I can say."

Along with Anthony Bryan, Elwardo Romeo, Glenda Caesar, Michael Braithewaite, Patrick Vernon and her daughter, Ms Wilson delivered the petition to Downing Street last month.

A report published in March found the Windrush scandal - which saw people with a right to live in the UK wrongfully detained or deported to the Caribbean - was "foreseeable and avoidable" with victims let down by "systemic operational failings" at the Home Office.

Official figures published in May revealed fewer than 5% of claims made under a compensation scheme for victims have been paid out.

Since the scandal emerged in 2018, more than 11,700 people have been given "some form of documentation", Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons in March.

On Tuesday, the Home Secretary has promised a "full evaluation" of the hostile environment policy in the wake of the Windrush scandal.

Speaking in the Commons, Priti Patel committed to the review as she updated MPs on progress being made to address concerns raised about Home Office practices.

The pledge comes after Wendy Williams, in her critical independent review of the department's handling of the Windrush scandal, recommended a full review of the policy - now branded "compliant environment".

The strategy, announced by the then home secretary Theresa May in 2012, aims through a series of administrative and legal measures to make staying in the UK as difficult as possible for people who do not have leave to remain in the hope they will depart the country of their own accord.

Ms Patel said: "What happened to the Windrush generation is unspeakable and no-one with a legal right to be here should ever have been penalised.

"I've tasked my officials to undertake a full evaluation of the compliant environment policy and measures individually (and cumulatively) to make sure the crucial balance is right.

"I have asked them to evaluate the changes that were made to immigration and nationality laws over successive governments to ensure that they are fit for purpose for today's world."

Ms Patel previously said Ms Williams was "just a fraction away from even calling the Home Office institutionally racist", describing the scandal as a "stain on this department".

She told MPs the scandal "scars" the Home Office "significantly", adding her commitment to changing the department is "fundamentally solid and firm".

Ms Williams will return to the Home Office in September 2021 to review progress, Ms Patel said, adding: "I am confident she will find the start of a genuine cultural shift within the department - a Home Office that is working hard to be more diverse, more compassionate and worthy of the trust of the communities it serves."

Her ambition is for "a fair, humane, compassionate and outward-looking Home Office that represents people from every corner of our diverse society", Ms Patel said.

Mandatory training is being brought in for staff to make sure everyone in the department "understands and appreciates" the country's history of migration and race.

She told MPs everyone in the department must "see a face behind the case", adding: "The injustices of Windrush did not happen because Home Office staff were bad people, but because staff themselves were caught up in a system where they did not feel they had the permission to bring personal judgment to bear."

There will also be a series of "reconciliation events" to help "rebuild the relationship" between the department and victims.

Acknowledging there is a lack of diversity in senior leadership in the department, Ms Patel said: "I have raised this at a senior management level in my own department that particularly with our own staff members from black, Asian, minority ethnic communities, that are actually stuck at certain grades in my department.

"That is not acceptable at all, it really isn't."

She added that there were "simply not enough individuals from black, Asian or minority ethnic staff working at the top in senior roles and there are far too many times where I am the only non-white face in the room".

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the Windrush scandal "must lead to real and lasting change" and said ministers "must get a grip" of the compensation scheme for victims.

Last week Ms Patel said she wanted to see the compensation scheme process "sped up", adding that it was "absolutely unacceptable" that some victims had died before receiving payments.

Campaigner Patrick Vernon accused Ms Patel's statement of paying "lip service" to the review but not responding to the "urgency" of the matter, adding: "The victims of the scandal should not have to wait any longer for justice."