Windrush man's bereaved family walk out of inquest after coroner rules Home Office policy played no role in death

Family seeking judicial review after coroner refuses to consider role of hostile environment in death of Dexter Bristol, who died while suffering 'extreme stress' over immigration issues

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 28 August 2018 16:39
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Mother of Windrush man Dexter Bristol who died after months of immigration problems seeks justice

The family of a Windrush migrant who died suddenly after being classified an illegal immigrant walked out of the inquest after a coroner ruled Home Office policy played no role in his death.

Dexter Bristol, 57, who came to the UK from Grenada aged eight, collapsed and died from acute heart failure in the street outside his home on 31 March. He had been sacked from his cleaning job and then denied benefits because officials did not believe he was in the country legally.

Dr William Dolman ruled on Tuesday that the Home Office should not be an interested party in the inquest as its policy was not relevant to the immediate circumstances of his death.

He said it was “absolutely clear” that Mr Bristol was under “some sort of distress or pressure” but said this did not come solely from his immigration status.

During the inquest, Dr Dolman had a heated exchange with the lawyer of the family, Una Morris, who tried to make submissions to the court about the role Home Office policy might have played, accusing her of “trying to tell me how to run my court” and repeatedly ordering her to sit down.

He later apologised to Ms Morris and Mr Bristol’s family, saying: “I didn’t mean any discourtesy at all,” to which she responded: “My concern isn’t for myself as much as the impact on the family, the family are deeply upset at the way you spoke to me.”

Mr Bristol’s family subsequently decided to leave the court room.

Irene Nembhard, Ms Bristol’s solicitor, told The Independent the family were now seeking an urgent judicial review of the ruling, saying they had “no confidence in the process fearlessly investigating the role of the Home Office policies” in placing excess stress on Mr Bristol.

She added: “[The family] withdrew after the coroner made two rulings this morning; declining to treat the Home Office as an interested person and declining to seek disclosure from the Home Office of any documents in their possession relating to Mr Bristol.”

Speaking outside court, Mr Bristol’s mother Sentina Bristol said: “We want justice, that’s what we’re fighting for – justice. That’s what I would like to see happen.

“The coroner was very rude... no sympathy for anyone... I feel disappointed. I feel same just like when I lost my son. The feelings I had then, I have them now.”

The inquest proceeded after the family departed, and Dr Dolman ruled that Mr Bristol died from natural causes, an acute cardiac arrhythmia.

During the hearing, Mr Bristol’s immigration lawyer, Jacqueline McKenzie, said he became a “shadow of himself” and that his battle to prove his right to be in the UK had taken a devastating toll on his health.

“We saw at the outset a very robust person but distressed by the fact that he was having to prove his status in the country, even though he had been here since 1968,” she said.

“He was prepared to fight but, as the months went on and he was required to find more evidence, it became very difficult and we saw him just decline into a shadow of himself.”

A letter she wrote reassuring him that his case would be resolved was found unopened after his death, she said.

Announcing his decision, Dr Dolman said: “I accept from the evidence that the deceased was suffering from a great deal of stress at the time.”

He passed his sympathy on to the family and said: “I am so sorry that they are not here to have heard the evidence. All that might have been asked I have tried to ask on their behalf.”

A pre-inquest review into Mr Bristol’s death in July heard that the 57 year old had refrained from accessing healthcare for nearly two years before he died due to immigration concerns.

Ms Morris told the pre-inquest review that he had been under “extreme stress” having been subjected to “racist and xenophobic” hostile environment policies.

Ms McKenzie, who had been working to obtain a passport for Mr Bristol prior to his death, said in a statement submitted to the court that in the months before he died he would often complain to her of feeling unwell, saying it was down to the pressure of having to prove his immigration status.

Following the hearing on Tuesday, Ms McKenzie said: “It’s really distressing that the family decided that they couldn’t participate in the proceedings – I think that’s really sad but I think they were quite right to do so.

“I think the start of the proceedings were very, very difficult, I think the coroner did not show courtesy to the family or to their legal team so I understand how they feel.“

Records show Mr Bristol had carried out a job search for hotel cleaning jobs or porter roles in 2016 with Maximus, a company working on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to help people find work. But it was noted that he didn’t have a right to work document.

A Christmas card sent to his retired NHS nurse mother, 76-year-old Sentina, four months before he died, read: “This whole thing is making me bitter and hateful and nobody wants to be that way for ever.”

The court also heard that Mr Bristol was not identified as someone being at high risk of heart failure before the issues with his immigration status.

Deborah Coles, director of charity Inquest, told The Independent the fact that the Home Office was not brought into the inquest amounted to a “missed opportunity” to highlight concerns that may safeguard the lives of others.”

She added: “For a family to have to leave an inquest in dismay at the cursory inquiry into their loved one’s death is really concerning not least when bereaved families are supposed to be at the heart of the process.

“It defies belief that the Home Office were not called to account for their actions not least given the impact of their policies on peoples mental and physical health.”

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