Lewisham Trades Union Council has renewed a call for an 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.  

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. 

Following this, Lewisham TUC president Cheryl McLeod wrote to mayor Damien Egan calling for an “urgent inquiry” into the “hostile environment to learn and correct procedures that were found to be flawed”. 

A council spokesperson said it would “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”, while its Single Equality Framework “is now applied when reviewing corporate policy and procedure”.  

But Ms McLeod said she was “concerned” with the response and the SEF itself.  

She referenced the Safer and Stronger Select committee considering the SEF in March and taking issue with its objectives, which include promoting access to opportunities for the seldom heard, tackling socio-economic inequality affecting the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the borough, improving the quality of life of residents by tackling preventable illnesses and diseases, promoting Lewisham as a borough of inclusion for all, and promoting active citizenship and social responsibility.  

The committee was “concerned these objectives are so high-level that they have limitations in reducing inequalities at an organisational level”, adding that they “do not believe [it] is the correct approach to take when setting equality objectives”, which should be “specific, realistically defined, achievable and measurable”.  

Ms McLeod said “even with this criticism”, the SEF was “approved unamended”, while officers were asked to draft a response which remains “outstanding”.  

“In the absence of any actions arising from the valid criticisms of the council’s own scrutiny committee, the SEF continues to be flawed.   

“To use the words of the judge in the case, we believe that this could be a contributory factor supporting ‘the hostile environment’ within Lewisham Council,” she said, reiterating her request for an inquiry.  

Pinaki Ghoshal, executive director for children and young people said: “This case examined meetings that happened over two years ago, and we are all in agreement that we need to learn from this and ensure that such instances are not repeated again.  

“We have offered an unreserved apology to Ms Sims and compensation has been paid in full. 

 “The Safer Stronger Select Committee is currently undertaking a review into equalities which officers have agreed to prioritise given its importance to the Council.  

“When their review is completed, the Single Equalities Framework can be refined as a result of their review.”