Author: Amelia Gentleman
Sajid Javid has said he wants to introduce a “fairer, more compassionate” immigration system that allows staff greater freedom to use their common sense, as he acknowledged widespread failings within the Home Office.
The home secretary said something went “massively” wrong at the department in its handling of the Windrush scandal, and that the treatment of those affected had not been “personal enough and not sympathetic enough”.
During a gruelling two-hour appearance at parliament’s joint human rights select committee, Javid was told of a litany of mistakes by Home Office staff that led to the detention of at least two Windrush victims, despite them repeatedly pointing out that they had lived in the UK legally for over 50 years.
He said he was “appalled” at the cases, adding: “What happened was profoundly wrong.”
The committee had obtained the 260-page immigration file of Paulette Wilson, 61, the Windrush victim who was wrongly detained last year and threatened with deportation to Jamaica, a country she had not visited in 50 years. The file contained a one-line written plea from Wilson, stating: “Please help me. This is my home.”
Javid conceded: “This says it all. She was asking for help and she didn’t get it. It was her home, obviously.” He said he hoped to bring a “fresh set of eyes” to assess what went wrong in the department.
The Conservative MP Fiona Bruce pushed Javid and Glyn Williams, the Home Office’s director general for immigration policy, who has been coordinating the response to the Windrush scandal since April, on why Wilson was detained when she had consistently said she had lived in the UK since she was 10, and had provided immigration officials with documents showing 34 years of national insurance payments and ample evidence from her daughter, her primary school and a childhood friend of a lifetime spent in the UK.
There “wasn’t a scintilla” of evidence in the files to cast any doubt on the truthfulness of what Wilson and others said, and yet she was sent to detention regardless, Bruce said.
Williams responded that Wilson’s irregular immigration status had been flagged to the Home Office by Capita. When she attempted to regularise her immigration status she had not paid the correct fee, he added, and had filled in the wrong form. “We should have engaged more proactively and more sympathetically with her,” he said.
It became clear during the session that although Javid said Home Office staff should have used more common sense, department policy did not allow them to. It would not have been normal for officials to accept national insurance payments as evidence of someone living in this country, Williams said, nor would staff have been able routinely to make calls to other departments to check for evidence that someone had been in the UK as long as they said they had. The onus was on the applicant to provide the proof.
Javid acknowledged that individuals had “been asked for proof they couldn’t possibly provide.”
The committee had also secured the full immigration case files of Anthony Bryan, who spent a total of five weeks in immigration detention centres despite having lived in the UK since he was eight, and worked and paid taxes here all his adult life. The files also showed Bryan repeatedly, consistently provided evidence of a lifetime spent in the UK, but the Home Office repeatedly ignored the evidence.
One document revealed Bryan was asked by immigration staff which airport he would like to be flown to in Jamaica; he replied that he did not know, because he did not know the names of any airports in Jamaica. He has not left the UK since he arrived in 1965.
Joanna Cherry from the Scottish National party asked why, given the wealth of evidence showing Bryan had been in the UK for 50 years, and given the involvement of his MP on his behalf, the Home Office “thought it was necessary and proportionate to detain him”.
Williams said the decision had been taken because there was insufficient evidence of his long residence in the UK.
The committee chair, Harriet Harman, said the files showed repeated mistakes were made by every single person at every stage of the cases, causing extreme distress to the families involved. Williams acknowledged that the cases were badly handled, but was not able to say whether officials would be disciplined.
Javid was repeatedly pressed on whether the failings were “systemic”, but would only say the cases were “appalling” and “wrong in so many ways”, adding he felt unable to describe the mistakes as systemic without a fuller understanding of what went wrong. He denied that Home Office officials’ failure to consider the large quantity of evidence was the result of being under pressure to meet deportation targets, saying he had seen no evidence to suggest that was the case.
He said that by July he hoped to have a list of the total number of Windrush citizens wrongly detained by the Home Office. “Lessons were already being learned,” he added, with 140 officials employed as part of the Windrush taskforce to help those still facing immigration problems regularise their status.