Windrush scandal ‘foreseeable and avoidable’ and victims let down by 'systematic operational failings'

The Empire Windrush in Southampton in 1954 Credit: PA

The Windrush scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable” and victims were let down by “systemic operational failings” at the Home Office, according to a report.

The Government department demonstrated “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation but the actions did not satisfy all of the features of institutional racism, findings from an independent review said.

Author Wendy Williams told reporters: “Warning signs from both inside and outside the Home Office were apparent for a number of years, and even when stories began to emerge in 2017 in the media about high-profile injustices, I have concluded that the Home Office was still too slow to react.

“I talk about a culture of disbelief and carelessness when dealing with applications.

The independent review found the Windrush scandal was 'avoidable.' Credit: PA

“This was born out of a conviction that the hostile environment policy would be effective, was effective, and should be pursued at all costs.

“I have also talked about a culture of ignorance and thoughtlessness when dealing with matters of race, the Windrush generation, their history and circumstances.

“The Windrush generation were let down by systemic operational failings by the Home Office.”

The Windrush Lessons Learned Review was commissioned after people with a right to live in the UK were wrongfully detained or deported to the Caribbean.

It called for Home Office ministers to admit that serious harm was inflicted on people who are British and to provide an “unqualified apology” to those affected and the wider black African-Caribbean community.

The Windrush generation was let down by 'systematic operational failings.' Credit: PA

Other recommendations include commissioning a full review and evaluation of the hostile environment policy and that the Home Office should establish an overarching strategic race advisory board.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told MPs: "We must all look to ourselves, we must all do better at walking in other people's shoes. We must all take responsibility for the failings that led to the unimaginable suffering of this generation.

"And let me be clear, Mr Speaker, there is nothing that I can say today which will undo the pain, the suffering and the misery inflicted upon the Windrush generation.

"What I can do is say that on behalf of this and successive governments, I am truly sorry for the actions that spanned decades and I'm sorry that people's trust has been betrayed."

Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott said she heard Ms Patel's apology but people will only believe her apology "when they see her genuinely seek to implement the recommendations in this review."

"My mother was a member of the Windrush generation, so I know one of the aspects of the Windrush generation was that they really believed they were British, they had no reason not to believe they were British when they came here with their passports," Ms Abbott said."For the Windrush isn't necessarily the money, or the loss, or the inconvenience or even the tragedy of being deported, it's the insult to people, who always believed they were British."

Ms Williams said the Windrush group had been “trapped by the hostile environment policy net”.

She added: “Those without documents were set, some would say, an impossible task.

“Others would say an unreasonably high standard of proof to prove their status.

“And when they couldn’t, they were subject to the most appalling injustice and that included the things we have heard; losing jobs, losing homes, losing access to services like healthcare, and in extreme circumstances being removed, being locked up and as we heard in one case, dying.”

The report “carefully considered” whether the concept of institutional racism outlined by Sir William Macpherson in the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence was “directly relevant to describe what occurred”.

The inquiry found that although the case for institutional racism was supported by a number of factors, the Home Office did not satisfy the definition in full.

It said: “I have not found, on the evidence that I have reviewed, that the organisational failings satisfy the Macpherson definition in full.

Then Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned in the wake of the Windrush scandal. Credit: PA

“Nevertheless, although the context for the Macpherson Inquiry was different to this lessons learned review, I have serious concerns that the factors I have set out in this section demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation.”

Since the scandal emerged in 2018, more than 8,000 have been given “some form of documentation” and the immigration status has been confirmed for almost 2,500, according to the most recent figures from the Home Office.

The department identified 164 people who had been deported or put in detention since 2002 amid the Windrush scandal, records said.

A compensation scheme with an estimated budget of at least £200 million has been set up.

But last month, campaigners hit out at the “paltry” number of people who have so far received payments and said the process was “slow and onerous”.

A total of £62,198 was paid out up until the end of last year and shared between just 36 people, despite the department receiving more than 1,000 claims so far.

Labour's Diane Abbott said: "This is coming forward at a very difficult time for the nation as a whole but on this side of the House, we will be coming back to the issues raised in this report because the Windrush scandal wasn't just a mistake, it wasn't just something that happened because people didn't read the rules properly.

"It was rooted, as Wendy Williams points out, in the systemic culture of the Home Office and failure of ministers to listen to the warnings they were given about what could be the effects of the hostile environment on people perfectly legally entitled to be here.

"So I have heard her (Ms Patel) apology, but people will believe her apology when they see her genuinely seek to implement the recommendations in this review."