Windrush victim brings compensation fight with Home Office to the High Court

A victim of the Windrush scandal left stranded and destitute in Jamaica for a decade is bringing a High Court challenge against the Government over his level of compensation.

Vernon Vanriel, 67, is pursuing his legal claim against the Home Office over its alleged refusal to compensate him for a loss of benefits after he was wrongly prevented from re-entering the UK.

The ex-boxer and electrician, who came to the UK as a child in 1962, was “in poor mental health, unable to work, destitute and homeless” in the 10 years after he was denied permission to return from a visit to Jamaica in 2008, the court was told.

Returning in September 2018, he later received a personal apology from former Home Secretary Priti Patel over the “shameful” injustice and hardship suffered by him and other members of the Windrush generation.

Mr Vanriel won a separate High Court challenge over the Home Office’s refusal to grant him British citizenship following his return to the UK in December 2021.

Before this ruling, he applied to the Windrush Compensation Scheme in July 2020 and the Home Office decided he was entitled to an award of just over £103,500.

The court was told that the department later offered an award of £29,250 in relation to Mr Vanriel’s homelessness, after it accepted he would have been in social housing but for the refusal of entry to the UK.

But Mr Vanriel argued that he is entitled to further compensation for “loss of access to benefits” between 2008 and 2018.

The Government, defending against his claim, says he has received “appropriate” compensation.

Mr Vanriel was born in Jamaica and arrived in the UK at the age of six, the court was told by his lawyer Chris Buttler KC in written arguments prepared for a hearing in London on Wednesday.

He lived in the UK continuously from 1962 until 2005, starting his own electrician business and becoming an “accomplished boxer” who rose to “number two in Britain and fighting at the Royal Albert Hall”.

In July 2005, he visited his youngest son in Jamaica but was refused re-entry to the UK three years later.

“As a result of the unlawful refusal, (Mr Vanriel) was stranded in Jamaica for a decade,” Mr Buttler said.

“He was in poor mental health, unable to work, destitute and homeless.

“He was forced to live in shelters, including a disused chicken coop and an abandoned grocery shack without electricity or a bathroom.”

Mr Buttler said Mr Vanriel had received incapacity benefit, income support and disability living allowance before leaving the UK, and was eligible for benefits on his return years later amid a “desperate financial situation”.

He said there had not been a “reasoned determination” of Mr Vanriel’s application over loss of benefits under the rules of the compensation scheme.

Mr Buttler said the “overarching purpose of the scheme is to compensate victims for wrongs they suffered for which the (Home Secretary) is responsible”, following the Government’s “failure” to provide people of the Windrush generation with proof of their immigration status.

The award granted to Mr Vanriel covered “denial of access to health services” and “impact on life” in relation to “feelings of abandonment, destitution, homelessness and the irreparable loss of family relationships”, he said.

Mr Buttler said there was “no basis for taking a different approach” over loss of benefits, adding it was an alleged breach of Mr Vanriel’s human rights that he was being “treated less favourably” than Windrush victims who were in the UK when denied benefits.

Edward Brown KC, for the Government, said Mr Vanriel’s legal challenge should be dismissed and that his human rights had not been infringed.

He said in written arguments, no award over loss of benefits was made because Mr Vanriel had “no entitlement” to them and therefore “suffered no financial loss”.

But he said the issue had been “expressly considered” and included in the decision to make the “impact on life” award.

“That, plainly, was the right approach. It allows for compensation in respect of, for example, destitution and homelessness, which UK benefits would have alleviated,” Mr Brown said.

He said the compensation scheme rules had to strike a balance between “righting historic wrongs” while not imposing “a disproportionate burden on the public purse”.

Mr Brown added that Home Secretary Suella Braverman “considers the present balance to be struck appropriately between potential claims and the community interest”.

The hearing before Mr Justice Griffiths is due to conclude on Thursday, with a ruling expected at a later date.

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