Death of Windrush man could have been caused by stress of “racist & xenophobic” government immigration policies

The death of a Windrush man who collapsed and died in the street could have been caused by the stress of “racist and xenophobic” government immigration policies, an inquest heard.

Dexter Bristol, 58, came to the UK with his mother from Grenada aged eight and collapsed and died in the street outside his home in Camden, north London, on March 31.

He had been sacked from his cleaning job a year earlier because he had no passport, and then was denied benefits because officials did not believe he was in the country legally.

His mother, 76-year-old Sentina D’Artanyan-Bristol, had previously said she was convinced the stress and anxiety her son experienced as a result of immigration controls contributed to his death.

She said he become so frustrated that he began to “lose his mind”.

Retired NHS nurse, Mrs D’Artanyan-Bristol said he had not left the country since then and had never needed a passport until new immigration laws were introduced in 2016 requiring employers to check a prospective employee’s papers before they can be hired.

The family had been trying to gather documentation to prove his right to remain in the UK and had made a breakthrough.

But a letter from his lawyer to inform of this arrived too late and he was already dead.

At Poplar Coroner’s Court on Friday during a pre-inquest review the cause of death was given as cardia arrhythmia which lead to aortic stenosis – a narrowing of the major heart valve.

But Una Morris, representing Dexter’s family argued: “He was subjected to a hostile environment, to racist and xenophobic policies which impacted on how he was feeling.

“Ultimately this inquest could conclude these things caused or contributed to Dexter’s death.”

Coroner for Inner North London Dr William Dolman questioned whether the inquest should look into Dexter’s immigration status as contributing to his death.

He said: “That would primarily seem to be a natural cause of death.

“You [Ms Morris] are widening the field of what this inquest can investigate.

“This is a scattergun approach.

“We are not involved in political shenanigans in this court or any court for that matter.”

But Ms Morris argued the link between his fight to prove he was a British citizen and his death needed to be investigated in a “full and fearless” manner.

She replied: “His immigration status was directly linked to his access to health care services.

“Even a domestic inquest has to look at not just the medical cause of death but the circumstances around that.

“So the fact Dexter was a man whose immigration status was in question, he believed he was a British citizen and entitled to access services as any British citizen would.

“It was not until 2016 that these matters came into question.

“If you are conducting a full and fearless investigation that means looking at all the circumstances in which he died.

“Access to health care services has to be part of that, as would his right to work and access to benefits.

“If those cardiac related problems were related to the stress of these circumstances then that matter would need to be looked into.

“We asked the Home Office is made an interested party as his immigration status is so relevant to his death and that is the body responsible for making decisions about it.”

The court heard Dexter only had a 10 per cent chance of cardiac disease over the next ten years after an assessment was made in May 2016.

Ms Morris added: “He wasn’t identified as being somebody at high risk for heart issues before his immigration status was questioned.”

The court heard that despite his ill health the last time Dexter visited his doctor was on August 25, 2016, because his GP was racist, he claimed.

Medical records from his local surgery also included details of another patient mixed in with Dexter’s notes in January 2018, the court heard.

Jacqueline McKenzie, an immigration lawyer who was helping Dexter prove his citizenship said he became increasingly unwell as the case progressed.

In a statement read by Ms Morris she said: “During Dexter’s visits in February and March he would often complain of feeling unwell.

“He would say it was down to pressure of having to prove his immigration status.

“I told him to go to his doctor but he said he couldn’t go to his doctor because he was racist.

“When I suggested he go to another doctor he said he couldn’t change surgeries unless he proved his immigration status.

“He was getting more and more upset and stressed by the ongoing operation to prove he was a British citizen.

“He started to lose hope he would ever be able to prove his status.”

In a Christmas card sent to his mother in 2017 Dexter wrote “this whole thing is making me feel bitter and hateful and that’s no way to be”.

He had also tried to find work through Maximus UK but was unable to accept any job offers due his immigration status, the court heard.

Home Office records on Dexter were also asked for by his family’s legal team to show what details the government body had about his citizenship.

Six witnesses could be called to the full hearing, which could take two days.

The court also heard Dexter’s right to life under Article 2 will not be investigated as part of the hearing.

Outside court his mother, Sentina, said: “The coroner said he will conduct a full and fearless investigation.

“As Dexter’s mother I expect this will include looking into the Home Office Windrush policies.”

Coroner Dr William Dolman adjourned the hearing and will make a ruling on whether the inquest should consider whether his immigration background played a role in the death at a future hearing.

A date the next hearing has yet to be fixed.

 

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