Priti Patel has been accused of “deeply insulting and patronising” behaviour by victims of the Windrush scandal after she branded those calling for deportation flights to be stopped as “do-gooding celebrities”.
In a letter to the Home Office, prominent Windrush campaigners and support organisations said the home secretary’s remarks were “ill-judged and ill-informed” – and accused her of using their name to try to score political points.
They reacted after Patel used a newspaper interview to hit out at more than 80 black public figures who called for the cancellation of a deportation flight to Jamaica of several convicted criminals.
The coverage included quotes from Home Office sources criticising lawyers acting on behalf of people targeted for deportation.
The campaigners fear the unlawful removal of people who have the right to remain in the UK. On Wednesday morning, the Home Office deported 13 men to Jamaica but 23 others were granted a reprieve after the government acknowledged some may have been victims of modern slavery.
In her interview with the Daily Mail on Friday, Patel claimed it was insulting to see “ill-informed Labour politicians and do-gooding celebrities attempting to conflate the victims of Windrush with these vile criminals set for deportation”.
Her words infuriated Windrush victims, who said in a letter of reply: “We, the leading Windrush campaigners and organisations, co-signed the same letter as other leading black figures – many of whom have parents and grandparents of the Windrush generation – to express our significant concerns with her mass deportation flight to Jamaica.”
The signatories included Natalie Barnes, whose mother Paulette Wilson was wrongly detained and threatened with deportation, and Anthony Bryan, who was wrongly held for five weeks, before being booked on to a flight to Jamaica despite not having been there in more than 50 years. Bryan said: “You can’t trust the Home Office to do the right thing. We need everyone to get involved in campaigning.”
He said he had been upset by Patel’s comments, adding: “I’m still waiting for the Home Office to do right by me.”
The letter was also signed by Windrush victims Glenda Ceaser, Ewaldo Romeo and Michael Braithwaite, as well as Bishop Desmond Jaddoo and other campaigners. They told the home secretary her comments were “deeply insulting [and] patronising”.
Patel referred to those targeted for deportation as “rapists and murderers” but Jacqueline McKenzie, a solicitor at McKenzie Beute and Pope, who has worked on Windrush cases, said not all of them were very serious offenders, and the original list of names for proposed deportation had included many people who had been in the UK since childhood and whose offences were less serious.
“When you learn a bit more about their backgrounds there are examples of people who are victims of grooming, people who have been in care, people with very disaffected lives and I think we need to factor that into the debate,” she said.
The letter, to which McKenzie was also a signatory, came as lawyers acting on behalf of several people facing deportation said they had received death threats and had had to increase security since Patel’s criticism.
Amer Zaman said his firm Cranbrook Legal had received several emails, including one that warned him to “expect a package” and that he would not be “alive much longer”. He said he was in the process of reporting them to the police.
Miranda Butler, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers, said the Mail’s decision to name her and others needed to be seen in the context of broader concerns about the security of lawyers involved in immigration cases.
The Bar Council and the Law Society, as well as fellow government ministers, have pleaded with Patel to stop her attacks on them.
A third lawyer, Sheraaz Hingora of Clarendon Park Chambers, said he and his colleagues had also been the objects of abuse.
He said: “The aggressive and threatening messages I have received since the article have been distressing, particularly with the recent rhetoric against immigration lawyers from the government. It feels like I have become a target when I was simply doing my job.
“People seem to forget that the work we do is also designed to protect innocent British children from the serious detriment caused to them by the deportation of a parent.”
Last week’s campaign was supported by the model Naomi Campbell and the actor Thandie Newton. They signed an open letter last week to several airlines calling on them to refuse to provide deportation flights for the prisoners.
The letter said in part: “Until justice has been delivered for all Commonwealth Windrush victims, any deportations to Commonwealth countries risk further unlawful removals of Windrush generation members or Windrush descendants who may have the right to remain in the UK but do not yet have the required paperwork.”
Labour’s immigration spokesman Holly Lynch has led MPs’ opposition to the deportations, telling the Commons on Monday the full consequences of the Windrush scandal had not yet been established.
She added: “With that in mind, what assessment has been made to ensure that none of those scheduled to be on the flight are eligible under the Windrush scheme, or have been affected by the wider immigration injustices that impacted the victims of the Windrush scandal?”
The Home Office and the Daily Mail have been contacted for comment.