Two Windrush campaigners have said they felt humiliated and baffled after being refused access to the Conservative party conference in Manchester despite having been granted full accreditation at a cost of £225 each.
Anthony Brown, co-founder of the Windrush Defenders group, told the Guardian that when he went to collect his pass he was instead met by one of Boris Johnson’s advisers, who only allowed him to attend chaperoned, to be introduced to people selected by No 10.
Julia Davidson, who works with Windrush families in Peterborough, was allowed into the event on Sunday but turned away on Monday. She said Johnson’s aide Myles Stacey told her there were concerns they might protest in the venue.
Brown and Davidson completely reject this, saying they had only planned to meet contacts including a Conservative councillor, and be introduced to other people who might be able to assist their campaign, the sort of activity ubiquitous in party conferences.
Brown, who did a law degree after being wrongly targeted for deportation from the UK, where he had moved as a six-year-old in 1967, said he felt “disgusted” at his treatment and was never told why he was not allowed in without an escort.
“I can guess why,” he said. “I just think they don’t want Windrush to be an issue, that we might detract from what the conference is meant to be about.”
Davidson, a former Labour councillor in Peterborough, said she felt humiliated to be turned away from the conference. She said Stacey, a special adviser to Johnson who joined No 10 in April, told her: “You’ve got to know about the Ts and Cs [terms and conditions] about banners, whistles, those kind of things.”
“We never came with any of that,” said Davidson. “It was about engagement – being able to go to the conference and just talk to people, like lots of groups do. But that opportunity was denied.”
Brown said when he went to fetch his pass from the collection point just outside the conference he was initially told he needed an extra police check, before Stacey suddenly arrived.
“He said: ‘You’re booked into the conference – what was it you wanted to do?’ I said: ‘Well, meet people, network, talk.’” Stacey offered instead to give him access to “any minister you want” to discuss his campaign issues, an offer Brown said “seemed a bit surreal”.
Still keen to go to the conference, Brown tried again to collect his pass, at which point Stacey again arrived, explaining that his offer of cooperation was dependant on Brown not going to the conference.
Eventually, Brown and Davidson were allowed in on Monday, but were constantly chaperoned by Stacey, who introduced them to attendees of his choice.
“It was like when journalists go to China and they’ve got a minder. I thought – is this for real?” Brown said. “Myles is a very nice chap, but we didn’t get to do what had come to do, which was meet up with our friends and be introduced to people. We were introduced to people Myles knew.”
Davidson asked if she could return on Tuesday, but was refused. An email to her from Stacey, seen by the Guardian, said she and Brown had been allowed in on Monday “as day guests” because there was capacity. It added: “We will refund the payments you have each made for your passes. The passes you have won’t work tomorrow or the day after.”
Davidson said that as well as the £225 spent on her pass, she had spent her own money on travel and five nights in a hotel, totalling many hundreds of pounds.
She said: “I’m very disappointed. I’m here to represent the community I serve. If there was a problem, why didn’t they tell me when I applied for accreditation? How can I go back to the organisation, and the people they’re supporting, and tell them this?”
A Conservative party spokesperson said: “Windrush Defenders Legal were able to attend Conservative party conference yesterday.”
The party declined to say why the campaigners were not allowed into the conference independently, or whether they would be compensated for their other costs.