Dexter Bristol inquest: Home Office is holding back info, says family of Windrush heart attack man
Relatives walk out of hearing after clash with coroner
30 August, 2018 — By William McLennan
Sentina Bristol at St Pancras Coroner’s Court this week
LAWYERS for the family of a man who is claimed to have died of a heart attack while under stress from the government’s hostile immigration policies have alleged that the Home Office is withholding key information about the case.
Dexter Bristol’s mother, Sentina, and her legal team walked out of an inquest on Tuesday after the coroner refused to make the Home Office an “interested person”, which would have seen the department formally invited to have legal representation at the hearing. Ms Dexter described assistant coroner William Dolman as “very rude”. Lawyers have vowed to launch judicial review legal action against his decision.
Mr Bristol, 57, collapsed and died outside his home in Mullen Tower, Holborn, in March. Having moved from the Caribbean with his mother aged eight, he found himself struggling to prove his immigration status – and right to work or obtain benefits – in the year before his death.
At St Pancras Coroner’s Court on Tuesday, Dr Dolman refused to take evidence from a medical expert on the links between stress and heart failure. He further declined a request to compel the Home Office to hand over all its records on Mr Bristol.
Mr Bristol’s immigration lawyer, Jacqueline McKenzie, said that a “subject access request” – which gives individuals the right to a copy of all information held on them – had been made to the Home Office in December, 2016.
Despite a 40-day time limit to respond, she is still waiting to receive Mr Bristol’s file today.
“That’s extremely worrying,” she said. “The Home Office have briefed the media that Dexter wasn’t engaged with them at all. That’s actually false.” She added: “It’s now August 28, 2018, and the request still hasn’t been complied with, despite the fact the Home Office had 40 days to comply with that. That was important. The reason we were applying for those files… very often in them you find people’s landing cards or a piece of evidence.”
Speaking outside court, Ms Bristol said: “I think [the coroner] was very rude, although he wasn’t speaking direct to me, he was very rude. No sympathy for anyone. We’d like justice.That is what we are fighting for.”
Dr Dolman had made his ruling after a heated exchange with the family’s barrister, Una Morris. Dr Dolman repeatedly asked her to “sit down” while she made legal submissions and said: “Do not tell me how to run my court.”
When Ms Morris did not comply with his request to sit down, Dr Dolman abruptly adjourned proceedings. After taking a five-minute break, he apologised to Ms Morris and said: “I didn’t intend any discourtesy to you all.” Ms Morris responded: “My concern is not so much for me, but the impact this is having on the family. The family are deeply upset by the way you spoke to me.” Dr Dolman said: “I apologise to them as well.”
Mr Bristol, who was born in Grenada, arrived in the UK in 1968, aged eight, to join his mother. Grenada was then a British colony and Ms Bristol, a nurse and a British subject, moved to England to help plug the NHS labour shortage. The inquest continued in the absence of Ms Bristol and her legal representatives.
Ms McKenzie, who had been working on Mr Bristol’s case before his death, told the court: “He really got himself into a terrible state about this. We saw him deteriorate before our eyes.”
She said that Mr Bristol had been found a job, but had been told he could not work because he did not have any documents to prove his immigration status in the UK. She was in the process of collecting evidence to prove he had been in the country since the late-1960s when he died.
“He got more and more stressed,” Ms McKenzie said. “I took a very sad phone call from him when he thought he was about to lose his home.”
Dr Alan Bates, a pathologist at the Royal Free Hospital, told the court that Mr Bristol had long-standing health problems, including an enlarged heart. Dr Dolman concluded that Mr Bristol died of natural causes, having suffered acute cardiac arrhythmia. Dr Dolman said: “Here was a man that was at risk of death at any time with his quite severe heart disease.”
He added: “I accept from the evidence that the deceased was suffering a great deal of stress at the time… to leave that out would be unfair and unjust.”
The Home Office said it would not comment while the case was ongoing.