David Behrens: I'm left stumped by callous officials' treatment of cricket star Collis King

IF you follow cricket, you won't need me to tell you who Collis King is. Not unless you work for the Home Office.

Collis King

Mr King, a resident of York, was the pivotal figure for the West Indies at Lord’s in the 1979 World Cup final against England. He should be at home in York now, with his British wife, Beverley, turning out this afternoon for Dunnington in the local senior league and coaching the city’s children in the finer points of the game.

Instead, he is in Barbados, being put up by friends. He has been there for three months and there is no immediate possibility of his return home. And all because the Home Office doesn’t appear to know who he is.

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I mean this figuratively and literally. He is one of the Windrush generation of Commonwealth citizens who arrived between 1948 and 1971, and who have now learned that they may be here illegally.

The Home Office does not know who any of them truly are, because its red tape came unwound and the necessary paperwork was either lost or never completed.

In Mr King’s case, the reality that he was one of Whitehall’s non-people dawned when he applied to change his visitor’s visa to a spousal one. The Home Office response was to give him 14 days to get out of the country.

It’s an outrage compounded by the fact that, even now, Mr King is invisible to the civil servants who run the department. Despite his legal team having spent the last several weeks filing appeals on his behalf, they claim to have no trace of his “reference number”.

One of its mandarins telephoned me on Tuesday. He could, he said, offer me some “guidance” on the case. How similar, I wondered, would this be to the guidance offered to Amber Rudd on the same issue earlier this year? She – as befitting a Home Secretary – trusted implicitly the accuracy and propriety of what she was being told, and relayed the information to the Commons.

But the guidance was flawed so fundamentally that within a few weeks, she was out of a job. She said she had “become aware of information provided to my office which makes mention of (immigration) targets. I should have been aware of this”.

This was politician-speak for “I was only told half the story by civil servants covering their own backs and I should have pumped them for more information”.

So that’s what I did. “How can you not find Mr King’s reference number?” I asked. “Surely if you look up his name and address, that’s where it will be?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” said the official.

Yes it does – that’s the very definition of how databases work. Don’t tell me; I spent the whole of last weekend building one with my son.

“We haven’t been able to speak to his lawyer,” said the official, clutching so hard at straws that I could almost hear them crunching.

“Really? I spent half an hour on the phone with him this morning.”

“Well, could you ask him for the reference number?”

Given that there were 27,546 staff in the Home Office at the last count and only one of me, I thought this a bit rich – but not nearly as off-the-scale as the suggestion the department made to Mr King’s wife in York.

“They said I should go and live with him in Barbados. It would be simpler than letting him back into Britain,” Beverley told me.

The fact that she is not of Barbadian heritage, and is responsible for the care of her elderly residents in York, was neither here nor there. “They said the NHS would take care of them,” she said.

In other words, it was more expedient to offload the case to another taxpayer-funded service than for the Home Office to try to make sense of its own records.

Here we see the human tragedy behind Windrush – not just that of Collis King but of countless other families who relied on the Government to take care of the one thing it’s supposed to be good at: paperwork.

Britain, as Mr King’s own lawyer acknowledged, needs a strong policy on immigration, but the right of a recent arrival to be here is not necessarily the same as that of a resident of 40 years’ standing to remain.

The Home Office created this mess by failing to keep records; its failure even now to recognise the case of Mr King suggests it has yet to learn from its mistakes.