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I think they are waiting for us to die off, fears Windrush scandal victim

A great-grandfather who alongside his daughter has helped advise thousands of people on Windrush scandal compensation said he fears the Government is “waiting for us to die off”.

Conroy Downie, who lives in northwest London, repeated calls made by others for the scheme – launched five years ago this week – to be removed from the Home Office and run independently, saying the people affected do not trust the Government department.

The 67-year-old, who was born in Jamaica and came to the UK as a teenager before joining the British Army, said the “system failed us” as he spoke about his homelessness and having twice faced deportation due to not having documentation on his immigration status.

With the help of his daughter and after a three-year wait, he received compensation.

But he said his claim has since been reopened as he was underpaid for the years he was homeless, which he said was caused by not having the documentation needed to get council help for housing.

He estimates that he and his daughter Katie Wilson-Downie have met thousands of people across the country in the years since the scheme opened, to raise awareness about it and help people with their applications.

Asked what people have told him, he said: “They don’t trust the Home Office. How can I investigate myself? If I’m guilty and the fault is mine don’t you think I’m going to try and cover it up – if it’s an embarrassing thing and there is a big scandal.

“They need to take the compensation scheme off the Home Office and give it to an independent body.”

Ms Wilson-Downie, a social worker, said she had begun supporting family to apply but then realised when she asked in the wider community that “nobody seemed to know” about the compensation scheme.

“People required support to understand the complex and tedious application forms written in complex language,” she said, adding that it was then she decided to do events on weekends and evenings to raise awareness.

On the five-year anniversary of the scheme’s launch, and in the face of criticism that it has been too slow in paying out, Mr Downie said: “They’re not very good at what they’re doing right now. It’s a failure, it’s disgusting. I think they are waiting for us to die off.”

He told of the effect on generations, saying his son has also had a battle over citizenship, having been born in the British military hospital in Berlin while his father served in the Army.

“They said he wasn’t British and threatened him with deportation,” Mr Downie said.

He added: “When I joined the British Army to contribute my part to the Crown and country, in my mind’s eye I thought that, for my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren, I hoped that society would give them a fair crack of the whip.

“I think the system failed us. The system failed the service of the black soldiers, it failed the Windrush generation.”

Age UK said long waits for people applying to the compensation scheme are “unacceptable, especially given that for many of the older applicants, time is not on their side”.

Charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “We need to remember that the people caught up in the Windrush scandal have given their working lives to our country, often in the NHS, the Armed Forces or other public services.

“It’s high time everyone affected received the justice they are due before it’s too late and more people go to their graves uncompensated for the enormous harm they and their families have experienced through the years. ”

The Home Office reiterated its commitment to “righting the wrongs of the Windrush scandal and making sure those affected receive the compensation they rightly deserve”.