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New national day for Britain marks disgrace, not greatness

Sunday June 28 2020
Windrush generation

In this file photo taken on April 20, 2018 supporters carry placards at the tail-end of a Windrush generation solidarity protest in Brixton, London. PHOTO | DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS | AFP

By GERRY LOUGHRAN

Checking the date, I find that I am writing this column on the newest of our national days.

June 22 is now National Windrush Day, marking the arrival at Tilbury Docks, Essex, 72 years ago of the passenger liner Empire Windrush bringing migrants from the Caribbean to the UK.

Normally a national day celebrates a great event in a nation’s history. National Windrush Day does the opposite. An estimated 500,000 people who arrived back in 1948 and thereafter are now known as the Windrush generation and are the victims of a scandal that has scarred the reputation of successive British governments.

In 1971, members of the Windrush generation were officially granted indefinite leave to remain. However, thousands were children travelling on their parents’ passports without documents of their own; others were born after their parents’ arrival.

In a clampdown starting in 2012, those without documents were instructed, under threat of deportation, to prove that they were not illegal immigrants.

However, these young people could only say they considered themselves totally British, they spoke in regional accents, they had never been to Jamaica or elsewhere in the Caribbean and knew nowhere but Britain.

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Despite this, many lost their jobs or homes, were refused unemployment benefits and denied medical care. In at least 83 cases, they were deported. The scandal came to light in 2018 and was attributed by commentators to a “hostile immigration policy” initiated by Theresa May when she was Home secretary.

In March of this year, an independent review by the inspector of Constabulary, Wendy Williams, blamed the Home Office for “inexcusable ignorance and thoughtlessness” in telling some people wrongly that they did not have the right to remain in Britain.

The review criticised bureaucrats for making “irrational demands” for multiple documents and for acting “with complete disregard for the Windrush generation”. It called on the government to make an “unqualified apology” to them and to the wider African-Caribbean community.

The newest Home secretary, Priti Patel, subsequently said, “I am truly sorry for the actions that span decades.” A Home Office statement promised that Ms Patel “will right those wrongs”.

A task force was formed to give individuals correct documents and a compensation scheme was established for Windrush victims. However, by March this year, only 60 people had received payments out of 1,275 who applied.

* * *

Last week, this column dwelt at length on how conmen and scammers were targeting vulnerable people, especially during the lockdown crisis.

Few were hit as hard as Mary Khamis. In the last three years of her life, she was conned out of her £10,000 savings by 101 separate scams. Mary, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2016, sent money to 101 different organisations, believing them to be charities or similar.

The scams, by post, phone and doorstep, were revealed when she needed a new boiler but her bank account was found to be empty.

Mary’s daughter Thea said call blockers were installed on her mother’s phone and scam mail was returned, but her details had been shared by scammers and she continued to be contacted.

Mary, from Stanley in County Durham, died in 2019, aged 89. Her daughter said, “My mum was a very intelligent lady but it was her kind-heartedness that meant she would offer help to anyone. It was very hard to convince her not to be scammed.”

* * *

Daisy Young had stomach cramps but thought nothing of them. However, they got worse overnight so she checked into a hospital in Dundee, Scotland.

Four hours later, to her amazement, she had a baby boy.

Daisy, 21, had no idea she was pregnant. “I had put on a bit of weight but I thought that was because I got a new job at McDonald’s.”

Much-loved baby Elijah John weighed in at a healthy 3kg.

About 300 so-called “cryptic births”, where the mother has no idea she is pregnant, take place in Britain every year.

* * *

There is a widespread belief here that Scottish people are, shall we say careful, when it comes to matters of personal finance. I am not taking sides on this. I think a Yorkshireman could give any Scot a run for his money, if I may use the phrase.

However, the joke is that an American millionaire was being prepared for heart surgery and the doctors needed standby blood of the patient’s type.

This blood was rare and an extensive search took place before a Scotsman was located with the right match. He agreed to donate his blood.

After the surgery, the millionaire, in gratitude, sent the Scotsman a new BMW, five carats of diamonds and $50,000.

A couple of days later, corrective surgery was needed and the Scot donated again. This time, the millionaire sent him a thank you card and a box of chocolates.

Disappointed, the Scotsman telephoned the millionaire to complain, only to be told, “Sorry, Jock. I have Scottish blood in my veins now.”

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