Rupert Everett was a victim of the Windrush scandal.  He had been living and working in the UK for over 50 years, since the age of 19. But his life was thrown into turmoil in 2015 when he was told by the Home Office that he would be removed from the country. They ignored that he not only had the right to be in the UK, but all the documentation to prove it.

In June 2021, an ombudsman report was published into Rupert’s appalling treatment by the Home Office. It found maladministration from the Home Office in three areas: decision-making, record keeping, and complaint handling.

Sadly, Rupert died in 2019, before he saw justice. With the help of GMIAU lawyer Sukhdeep Singh, his daughters Belinda and Fiona continued his case and spoke out about what happened. Their story featured in the Guardian, Channel 4 News, ITV Granada and BBC North West. In this video, Belinda and Fiona Everett talk about why they spoke out, and the wider context of what happened to their father.

Video Transcript

Tell us about Rupert. What was he like? 

Belinda: My dad, Rupert, was a very quiet man. He was very calm. If anything troubled or worried him you wouldn’t know about it. He kept a lot of emotions to himself. He was an incredible family man, very loyal to family.

Fiona: A very strong and proud man. And he worked hard for everything that he had. 

In 2015, Rupert was told that he had no status in the UK. It wasn’t true, but it would lead to years of distress and problems.

When did you first hear that Rupert was having problems with his status in the UK?

Fiona: The first time I heard about it was when he got really annoyed that his driving licence was taken away. Because prior to that, if anything happened, because my dad was quite proud and private he would keep it all to himself. So it wasn’t until his driving licence was taken away that it became serious then. His freedom was being stripped of him. It’s at that point when he became very annoyed, frustrated, upset, and it just meant that all the things he was able to do on a day-to-day basis was now taken away. Things like going out with family, having freedom to go and see his friends when he wanted to, all that was slowly being stripped away from him.

What did you say when he told you?

Fiona: So when he told me I was actually thinking everything would be fine. I was like, just show them your passport, show them that obviously you have the right to be here. It will all be fine. It’s only when things started moving in a different direction that I was… I was actually in disbelief, that it could even happen. You know, if you have all the documents and you have the passport and all the stamps, how can this happen? I couldn’t believe it, and then – normally you’d read about these sort of things in the newspaper. But it’s actually happening to my Dad. It was just total shock. 

Why do you think it happened to him?

Fiona: I actually… I don’t know. Because it wasn’t just one person failing, it was so many failings. I still don’t understand how that could happen. I don’t know.

Belinda: I do. 

I would say there’s an institution there that has certain policies and procedures in place that affect a certain demographic in this country. And I think they get harsher treatment, in my eyes, in comparison to many others. Unfortunately, my dad was a part of that demographic, which for them, it was easier to exploit, it was easier to try and take money from them or try and get them out the country. For me, it was because of the fact that they were not British. This, for me, is why they were, personally, in my eyes, were targeted. In comparison, I believe, to many others. It’s the fact that he was Jamaican. The fact that he was from the Caribbean. The fact that he was not born here. He was an easy target.

Sukhdeep is a Caseworker at GMIAU. He represented Rupert, and he now represents Fiona and Belinda. 

Sukhdeep: At that time, I’d been dealing with quite a lot of Windrush cases. Windrush cases are those people who came here a long, long time ago, and the curious thing is that they were actually invited to come to the UK, because there was a jobs shortage. Around about 2009 onwards, what happened was that the Home Office destroyed all the previous records. And around about 2014 they introduced laws which made it harder for people without documents to get benefits, to get work, etc. That’s when the whole Windrush thing started.

The Hostile Environment is a series of laws and policies. It excludes people from accessing services and benefits based on their immigration status. It means immigration checks in almost every area of daily life: employment, renting, healthcare, banking, education, driving licences, benefits, marriage.

These new constant checks caused particular problems for members of the Windrush generation. They often did not have any documents to prove their right to be in the UK. 

Rupert came to see Sukhdeep in March 2016.

Sukhdeep: The thing about Rupert – he comes in, sits down in front of me, and he’s got all the documents. He’s got all the documents – passports from 10, 20 years ago, and a stamp, a permanent stay stamp, which was issued by this country a year before he came to see me. And I just thought, this is going to be dead straightforward. That’s what I think I still find shocking. I’ve been dealing with lots and lots of immigration cases and I know exactly who the government target and why they target them. But I must admit that this is actually one of the most shocking cases I’ve come across. I must admit I’ve never come across a case where somebody had all the documentary proof. Everything. That’s what shocked me. And I thought it would get sorted out very quickly. And it didn’t. If you look at the report from the ombudsman, there were four different departments that totally mishandled his case. Absolutely, utterly mishandled his case.

Why did Rupert showing his documents not resolve the situation? 

Sukhdeep: Part of it is that what they did was get totally unqualified people to make decisions on asylum cases. They didn’t care. The whole culture of the Home Office was “we do not believe anybody who is black”, essentially, who we come across. So Rupert goes in, hands across his passports. Passports show absolute proof of his status in the UK. They just say “we don’t believe you”. In his case they actually sent the passports to the fraud office. To make sure that they were not false. And the ombudsman points out that there’s actually no reason given as to why that happened. And that’s how I think we need to understand it. You’ve got politicians who drive what happens and you’ve got a set of civil servants who just follow it. And that’s the trap that Rupert was caught in. It didn’t matter what he said, it didn’t matter what he produced, the whole thing is “you’re not meant to be here, we’re going to make life as uncomfortable – as hostile – for you as possible”. I mean… it’s really unfortunate that Rupert passed away, and it’s only through the persistence of the sisters that we ended up going outside the Home Office, to the ombudsman. And it’s the ombudsman who’s actually discovered all of this. And the ombudsman report makes appalling reading. They were absolutely shocked.

Did racism cause the Windrush scandal?

Sukhdeep: People sometimes think that’s very glib, in terms of saying it’s to do with racism. But that’s my experience, it’s my experience in the work I do, my experience in the work I do all the time. One of the Windrush cases was somebody who’d been in the UK since ’68. He didn’t have any documents ’cause he came here when he was a kid. The school he went to had been demolished, didn’t have any records. He then claimed benefits, and what happened is the benefits got in touch with the Home Office, to find out whether he’d got status. The Home Office came back and said “we’ve never heard of him, he’s not on our records, therefore he doesn’t have status”.

Two things. They got rid of the records. So they’d have no proof anyway. Second thing. Let’s say – and this is the situation – a white person with no documents at all, speaks perfect English, like my client did, goes to the DWP and claims benefits. This person, my client, had a National Insurance number. White person, National Insurance number… are they going to contact the Home Office? The answer, I think, is no.

The reason I’m saying that is that if the Home Office are contacted on behalf of the majority of the population, they will have no records of them. That’s because the majority of the population will not have had contact with the Home Office. In that case, the client had his benefits stopped – actually, no, benefits refused. He’d been granted benefits about 10 years before. They then sent him a bill for £30,000 for every single benefit that he’d had in the past.

What or who was responsible for what happened to Rupert?

Sukhdeep: Who to blame is a really difficult question. I think that it’s because essentially, Black people have been demonised and you have a situation where they’re not treated as human. None of the people that dealt with him viewed him as a human being. They viewed him as a statistic, they viewed him as somebody that they could add to the file as somebody who does not have status. Part of what was happening was that Amber Rudd, who was the Home Secretary at that point, because of the language that she used, the Home Office set agendas and targets for the number of people it was going to remove. 

That’s it. Everybody who dealt with him actually did not care about Rupert as an individual. And that, I think was the essential problem. Rupert took along all the passports with status and showed them to an immigration officer. And the immigration officer ignored it, and said “you’re still going to get deported”. I mean, that’s appalling. The immigration officer did not view Rupert as somebody who was somebody’s father, grandfather – who was a human.

How does it make you feel to hear about the systems that let your Dad down?

Fiona: It makes me feel angry. Especially when it’s not just happened to my Dad. There’s many many other people out there that it’s happened to, many other families’ lives have been ruined. And it doesn’t seem like it’s changing. It doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better. So I am frustrated, and I’m angry.

Are there others in the North West in similar situations who aren’t aware that they could seek advice?

Sukhdeep: Yes. I think it’s interesting – because of the publicity of this case, I was approached by three different people. And I think it’s interesting in terms of – you know, the Windrush stuff occurred a few years ago. You would have thought all those people would have got status, etc. But there’s still people. There’s people who are worried about whether they’ve got the right to remain in the UK. Because the effects of all the publicity… is that there are people who are still getting deported. 

What will it take for change to happen?

Sukhdeep: A fundamental thing would be the realisation that everybody’s equal. Not just the rhetoric in terms of saying “everybody’s equal”. A deep-seated acknowledgement, acceptance, that everybody is equal. The change is not going to come from inside the government. The change is going to come from outside. The change is going to come from Black people asserting – in a sense, it’s not asserting their rights. It’s asserting their humanity. Even the equality, the theoretical equality we have has been achieved through struggle. And young people should be doing this. 

Belinda: Yeah, we have to keep connecting. Just stop… Get off their phones, really. Just keep educating yourself about how this country works. The history of this country, you know. Whether it’s the Windrush generation or many things that have happened – the miners’ strike, all these other things that have built up where we are today. And I think when we keep continuing to look back at the history, you can change tomorrow. We can change all these things. But I think unfortunately what’s happening is we are becoming – not all, but we are become more disconnected from politics. You can’t have life, for me, without politics in the same breath. 

What would you like people watching this video to remember?

Sukhdeep: I’d want them to recognise that racism is real in the UK. I would like them to recognise the roots of racism, the rhetoric that leads to it, the structure that leads to it. It is a real, real factor in every facet of a Black person’s life.

Belinda: I would add to that, don’t underestimate the strength that you have within yourself and as a collective people here in the UK. We have fought, through the ages, many many many fights to be where we are here today. And we will still continue. But don’t underestimate it. And talk, communicate, speak to someone. If somebody is going through it, let them know that they are supported and there is support out there. 

Thank you to Fiona, Belinda and Sukhdeep. To support our work, please follow and share on Twitter, or sign up to our newsletter.