20/04/2018 20:33 BST | Updated 20/04/2018 21:23 BST

Windrush Campaigners Vow To Get Justice As May Backs 'Appropriate' Compensation

'They knew what they were doing.'

Labour’s Diane Abbott joined campaigners vowing to “get justice” for those caught up in the Windrush generation scandal as the Prime Minster backed compensation “where appropriate”.

The shadow home secretary blasted Theresa May for her handling of the furore, saying the PM “knew what she was doing” when she removed protections for long-standing Commonwealth citizens in Britain.

It came as May, who faces growing calls to sack Home Secretary Amber Rudd, offered a third apology to Commonwealth leaders in as many days over how the Government has treated Windrush Britons.

Speaking at a summit in London, the PM vowed do “whatever it takes” to right the wrongs of power-holders, and officially threw her weight behind compensation deals “where appropriate”. 

Downing Street declined to give further details of the proposed scheme scheme, confirming only that they would be announced “shortly” by the Home Office.

Meanwhile, the anger was palpable at a packed rally on Windrush Square in Brixton, south London, on Friday night, where Abbott said that May and Rudd, should be held responsible.

Abbott said: “Amber Rudd and Theresa May shouldn’t be apologising. You know why? Because you only apologise when you make a mistake - they knew what they were doing.”

She added that together with now Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, she voted against the 2014 Immigration Act, which removed an exemption for those from Commonwealth countries who had settled in the UK.

The Guardian newspaper reported this week that a clause protecting those who arrived from Commonwealth nations after the Second World War was “quietly deleted” by Home Office staff from the 2014 law.

EMPICS Entertainment
Diane Abbott used a speech at a rally in Brixton, south London, to add her voice to calls for compensation to now be given to those affected by the Windrush scandal.

At the time, Labour, then led by Ed Miliband, officially abstained from voting on the act.

But several backbenchers chose to defy the whip, including Abbott, Corbyn, who acted as a teller, and McDonnell.

May was Home Secretary at the time the 2014 bill was passed.

Abbott said of the PM in her speech: “Don’t tell me you’re apologising, when you constantly knew what you were doing when you were warned about it by myself and others.”

“We need to come together to demand justice and I will not stop until we get that justice,” she added.

And the Hackney North MP added her voice to calls for compensation to now be given to those affected.

It is thought likely that payments will go beyond the reimbursement of legal bills and include a recognition of the anxiety caused to long-standing Commonwealth residents of the UK whose right to be in the country was questioned.

‘Whatever it takes’

Speaking at a summit in London, May said: “On Tuesday, I met with Caribbean leaders, where I gave an absolute commitment that the UK Government will do whatever it takes - including where appropriate payment of compensation - to resolve the anxieties and problems which some of the Windrush generation have suffered.

“These people are British, they are part of us, they helped to build Britain and we are all the stronger for their contributions.” 

PA Wire/PA Images
Prime Minister Theresa May walks with commonwealth leaders at Windsor Castle during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on Friday.

Grenada’s Prime Minister Keith Mitchell called for the compensation to be “serious”, saying: “The word compensation came out today - that was highly significant, extremely important.

“It’s not just, ‘I’m sorry.’ People lost a lot, people suffered a lot of pain, and they must be given an opportunity to correct this - some serious compensation.

“If not the person, if they’ve gone, then the families who have suffered too.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded an apology from Mrs May for the policy she introduced as Home Secretary of creating a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants by requiring individuals to prove their right to be in the UK before receiving services.

“She’s the one that ordered the vans to go around telling immigrants to go home,” said Corbyn.

“She’s the one that created that nasty atmosphere.

“She wanted to create this hostile atmosphere towards immigrants in this country. I think it’s time that she apologised for that as well as for the events that have happened to the people of the Windrush generation.”

Hundreds turned out for Friday night’s rally in Brixton, which showcased powerful accounts of how the scandal has affected those who came to Britain in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

One man who addressed the crowd said he arrived in Britain to join his parents in 1958, yet has since struggled to prove his citizenship.

“My father died [in Jamaica] a couple of years ago, I tried to go, I couldn’t get a passport,” the man, who gave his name as Trevor, said. “They put me in a detention centre saying I’m illegal.”

He added: “They let me out and gave me a bit of paper to say I am a British citizen, but everytime I try to do something they say that paper is not valued. I came here on my mother’s passport, my father was in the army… and I still can’t get a passport.

“I didn’t decide to come here, you sent for my parents, they came to work and build the country. I still can’t get a passport.”

Watch the video, above.

Calls for Amber Rudd to be sacked intensified on Friday after a leaked memo emerged in which the Home Secretary pledged to give her department “teeth” in its efforts to remove illegal migrants from the UK.

In the letter to Theresa May, dated last January and shared with the Guardian, Rudd sets out a vision to “radically reshape” immigration enforcement and raise the number of enforced removals by more than 10% with a reallocated 10m.

She wrote: “Illegal and would-be illegal migrants and the public more widely, need to know that our immigration system has ‘teeth’, and that if people do not comply on their own we will enforce their return, including through arresting and detaining them.

“That is why I will be refocusing immigration enforcement’s work to concentrate on enforced removals.”

Rudd said the department would relentlessly focus on “arresting, detaining and forcibly removing illegal migrants”, while also emphasising the need to target gangs and criminals profiting from people trafficking and smuggling.

The Home Office said it was “wilfully misleading” to conflate the issue of illegal immigrants with that of the mistreated Windrush generation, who had the right to remain.

But Labour pointed to the memo as more evidence of how the Conservatives’ bid to create a “hostile environment” for immigrants had made the Windrush scandal possible.

The announcement came as details emerged of two Windrush women who say they were denied re-entry to the UK after travelling to the Caribbean.

Gretel Gocan, 81, told 5 News she had been stuck in Jamaica since 2010 unable to return to her south London home after taking a holiday to visit family.

And former NHS nurse Icilda Williams, who moved back to Jamaica in 1996 after 34 years in Bradford, said her annual visits to the UK to see her children had been halted since 2014 after she was denied a visa.

The Home Office said it would be looking into the cases as a matter of urgency.

The number of cases being looked into as a result of calls to the Home Office’s dedicated Windrush helpline stood at 286 as of 2pm on Friday.

So far, eight people have been given permanent status.