A Windrush man who died suddenly after being classified an illegal immigrant had refrained from accessing healthcare for nearly two years before his death due to immigration concerns, a pre-inquest review has heard.
Dexter Bristol, who came to the UK from Grenada aged eight, collapsed and died from acute heart failure in the street outside his home in Camden 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.
It has now emerged that, according to medical records submitted to the coroner, the 57-year-old had not accessed health services since August 2016. His uncertain immigration status prevented him from going to the GP, according to his solicitor at the time.
Barrister Una Morris, representing Mr Bristol’s mother and sister, told a pre-inquest review that Mr Bristol had been under “extreme stress” having been subjected to “racist and xenophobic” hostile environment policies.
Witness Jacqueline McKenzie, a lawyer 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.
“When I suggested he find a new doctor, he said his GP was racist, and that he couldn’t apply to change surgeries unless he could prove his immigration status. I saw him getting more and more upset and stressed by the ongoing process to prove he was a British citizen,” she said in the statement.
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 his 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.
Ms Morris asked the coroner Dr William Dolman for access to Home Office and further DWP documents relating to him, adding: “We can’t ignore the fact Dexter was a man whose immigration status was in question.
“He went through his entire life as a British citizen. It was only in 2016 that these matters started to come into question. We have to look into the background.”
When Mr Dolman questioned the relevance of the additional documents, she said: “The point is if somebody is under extreme stress that can have an impact on their health.”
The coroner reserved his ruling on the scope of the inquiry but said the full inquest would take place over two days at a date which has not yet been set.
Speaking after the hearing, Ms Bristol said: “The coroner has said he will conduct a full and fearless investigation and as Dexter’s mother I expect this will include looking into the Home Office Windrush policies.”
Deborah Coles, direct of charity Inquest, told The Independent she believed the “unique” circumstances of the case justified a broader inquiry into the circumstances of Mr Bristol’s death.
“These are exceptional circumstances. The concerns about the impact of the Windrush scandal on people’s physical and mental health have to be explored. It’s in the public interest.
“If the government is taking seriously the impact of their hostile environment policies, then that should include where people have potentially died prematurely as a result of the hostile environment.”
It comes after Ms Bristol told The Independent she was convinced the stress and anxiety her son experienced as a result of immigration controls contributed to his death, saying she watched him become so frustrated that he began to “lose his mind”.
With no access to legal aid and having spent all of her savings on Mr Bristol’s passport documents and then his funeral, the former nurse is having to crowdfund in order to afford legal representation so that questions are asked about the stress her son experienced.
You can donate to help Ms Bristol raise funds for legal representation here.