Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson dead at 64

Published:Saturday | August 1, 2020 | 12:08 AM
Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson.
Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson.

London:

Paulette Wilson, a prominent Windrush campaigner, has died. She was 64.

Her death comes one month after she delivered a petition, along with other campaigners, to Downing Street, signed by more than 130,000 people and calling for action to address the failings that led to the scandal.

Wilson’s daughter, Natalie Barnes, said that she found her mother early on Thursday, July 23, and that she appeared to have died in her sleep.

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.”

Wilson, from Wolverhampton, came to Britain from Jamaica aged 10 in the late 1960s. She attended school in Britain, paid national insurance contributions for 34 years, and worked hard to build a life in the United Kingdom (UK).

The grandmother of one was a chef; she worked in the House of Commons restaurant and also volunteered at her local church, preparing meals for homeless people.

Wilson spent two years under the threat of deportation and was wrongly locked up in the Yarl’s Wood detention centre before being told she could stay in the UK in 2017.

OUTPOURING OF TRIBUTES

There has been an outpouring of tributes from the cross section of the society – from Windrush campaigners to ordinary people – who took to social media to express their condolences.

Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon said: “Paulette Wilson was mother, grandmother, and a campaigner and spoke truth to power regarding the Windrush scandal. She inspired many other survivors to share their story.

“Paulette was proud of her Jamaican and Wolverhampton roots. She was like a big sister to me because we had our connections and roots in Wolverhampton.”

The ordeal as a victim of the Windrush scandal had a profound impact on her, Vernon said, adding that it’s paramount that the UK government make amends to those affected.

“Paulette’s spirit and mental well-being were broken by the hostile environment and the challenges in completing the Windrush compensation form,” Vernon added.

Bishop Dr Desmond Jaddoo, chair of the Windrush UK movement and the Windrush national organisation, said: “Paulette was a shining example of grace and humility. Despite the severe inequality and injustice that she faced, her zeal was to help others by highlighting the issues that they faced.

“I recall a conversation she and I had in January, when she said that many people are dying awaiting their status and compensation. Who would have thought that now, in July, we would be talking about her death?

“Clearly, the government is acting too slowly in righting the wrongs. There is a long way to go on this, and I would urge the British government to take stock, as how many more people must die before the scandal is resolved?”

WAKE-UP CALL

“It is clear that the injustice that Paulette went through took its toll on her.

“On behalf of myself and the Windrush organisation, our heartfelt condolences go out to all of Paulette’s family here in the UK, and also in Jamaica, who had an opportunity of seeing her last year when she visited after 50 years.

“This is yet another wake-up call that we must not rest until the impact and injustice is resolved.”

Writing in The Guardian, Labour MP Diane Abbott said: “Paulette Wilson’s untimely death also reminds us that the victims of the Windrush scandal are an ageing cohort, and consequently, the delay in compensating them is a mounting scandal. Unless the Home Office drastically improves the process for obtaining compensation, many more will die without receiving a penny.”

After former Home Secretary Amber Rudd apologised for the Windrush scandal in 2017, Wilson described it as “a good thing” in an interview with the BBC 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, that’s all I can say.”