Paulette Wilson, a Windrush campaigner who was left destitute while fighting for her rights as a British citizen, has died unexpectedly age 64.
Her death comes one month after she delivered a petition to Downing Street, signed by more than 130,000 people calling for action to address the failings which led to the scandal.
Her daughter Natalie Barnes said she found her mother early on Thursday, and she appeared to have died in her sleep, PA Media reported.
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 UK.
The grandmother-of-one was a chef who worked in the House of Commons restaurant serving meals to MPs 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 a detention centre before being told she could stay in the UK in 2017.
Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon told HuffPost UK that he’s in “complete shock” over Wilson’s death and said she was like a “big sister”.
“Paulette Wilson was mother, grandmother and a campaigner and spoke truth to power regarding Windrush Scandal and inspired many others so share other survivors to share their story,” Vernon said.
“Paulette was proud of her Jamaican and Wolverhampton roots; she was lovely and earthy – likkle but tallawah* (‘tallawah’ is a Jamaican term meaning ‘strong-willed’, ‘impactful’). I am complete shock she was like a big sister to me ... we had our connections and roots in Wolverhampton.”
On Friday, Vernon launched a crowdfund campaign to raise funds for Wilson’s funeral, while some people have taken to social media to demand that the home office cover these costs.
Paulette was lovely and earthy; likkle but tallawah.Patrick Vernon
The 64-year-old’s ordeal as a victim of the Windrush Scandal had a profound impact on her, Vernon said, adding that it’s paramount for the UK government to make amends to those affected.
“Paulette’s spirit and mental well-being was broken by the hostile environment and the challenges in completing Windrush compensation form. Priti Patel and Boris Johnson do not understand or even comprehend the meaning of righting the wrongs.
“This mean a compensation based on restorative justice not personal injuries claim.”
Speaking to The Guardian in 2017, Wilson’s daughter said: “I am surprised we didn’t lose her from the stress. She is normally so bubbly and sociable. Since she came out of Yarl’s Wood she has withdrawn.”
There has been an outpouring of tributes from Windrush campaigners on social media following news of Wilson’s death.
Immigration lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie explained how Paulette had taken on “the fight for justice for others” in a powerful tribute.
Glenda Caesar wrote: “My thoughts & prayers go out to Paulette Wilson, may she rest in eternal peace. Yet again another victim passed away without even having access to her compensation. See @ukhomeoffice @pritipatel in our twilight age you have put us through this stress”.
The Windrush Movement & Windrush National Group also posted a heartfelt tribute:
Floella Benjamin, who herself is part of the Windrush generation and chair of the government’s Windrush Commemoration Committee, tweeted: “This is such sad and heartbreaking news for the family of #PauletteWilson#Windrush campaigner who faced deportation:”.
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, 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, Wilson delivered the aforementioned petition to Downing Street last month.
Another petition is circulating, set up by Vernon, calling upon the government to make the compensation scheme process easier currently have over 55,000 signatures. If this reaches 100,000 then a number of Windrush campaigners will once again take it to 10 Downing Street.
Earlier this month, the Home Office faced fresh criticism over ithe Windrush scandal after it emerged victims are having to prove their case “beyond reasonable doubt” before being given compensation, HuffPost UK reported.
It is the same level of proof required to convict defendants in criminal courts across the UK.
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.