The president of Lewisham Trades Union Council has asked for an urgent inquiry from the council after a Windrush scandal victim was wrongly labelled an illegal immigrant who “concocted a very good story”.  

Willow Sims was awarded £20,828 by an employment tribunal after it found that Lewisham Council and Adamsrill Primary School directly discriminated against the teaching assistant because of her nationality. 

Ms Sims, an American national who was granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK when she arrived with her mother nearly 40 years ago, worked at the school from 2015 before she was dismissed in 2018 over admin problems with a DBS check. 

Allyson Hollidge, from Lewisham’s HR department at the time, accused Ms Sims in a meeting of “concocting a very good story” and that she was “obviously” an illegal immigrant who had been “evading authorities”.  

She made the unfounded accusations, branded “deeply offensive and threatening” by the tribunal, without investigating whether they were true.  

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Ms Sims speaks to the BBC about her experience

The tribunal, held between January and April, found Ms Sims’ claim for direct discrimination “well founded”, concluding that Ms Sims was “consistent and credible”, while the respondents – Lewisham Council, headteacher Dr Increase Eko and business manager Ms Sharon Donegal-Grant were not.   

Now Cheryl McLeod, president of Lewisham TUC, has written to mayor Damien Egan asking if the compensation was paid – which the council confirmed has been – and for an “urgent inquiry” into the “hostile environment to learn and correct procedures that were found to be flawed”. 

Ms McLeod also asked that the findings be published.  

However, I hope that you will agree that any discrimination should not be tolerated in the council where you are the leader. That where it is found that it will be rooted out and action taken to prevent reoccurrence

In the letter she highlighted findings from the tribunal, which “found as a fact that the comments made in the meeting were deeply offensive and threatening”.  

“‘The comments found to have been made were not only factually incorrect but insulting and disrespectful.  

“‘The discrimination was overt and made negative assumptions because of the Claimant’s nationality. 

“‘The effects of the acts of discrimination extended way beyond the date of the meeting. 

“‘The Claimant was in fear for a number of weeks after April 30 because she feared the authorities would come to her door.  

“She stated in her closing submission that ‘I was forced to stay in my house for 13 weeks before I could get my passport verified by an actual immigration specialist again. 

“‘Each day I thought the immigration force was going to storm my house and arrest me for being illegal in the country’.  

“The Claimant was placed in fear of her liberty and feared deportation due to the threats made by Ms Hollidge in this meeting. 

“The Tribunal also noted that she lost the job she loved, and she was not given the opportunity to return when her status had been verified.  

“I understand Ms Hollidge was an agency worker and has since moved on. 

“However, I hope that you will agree that any discrimination should not be tolerated in the council where you are the leader.  

“That where it is found that it will be rooted out and action taken to prevent reoccurrence. Hence we seek details of how you intend to achieve this,” she wrote. 

A council spokesperson said Ms Sims has received the payment in full.  

“We continue to take lessons from this case to ensure that our HR and legal processes, and the conduct of all employees, reflect the sensitive issues that sometimes come up through right to work checks.  

“The council’s single Equality Framework is now applied when reviewing corporate policy and procedure,” she said.