On Monday 20 April, a man died at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre (IRC) in Bedford, the third person to die there since it opened in November 2001.
The Guardian reported that the man died from a heart attack while being held in the family unit at Yarl’s Wood. Named as Pinakin Patel, the 33-year-old Indian man was reportedly detained with his wife, after being held by immigration officers who did not believe that they were ‘genuine’ visitors to the UK. The police and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman will now carry out an investigation before an inquest can be held.
A Home Office spokesperson told IRR News: ‘Our thoughts are with the family at this very sad time. As is the case with any death in the immigration detention estate, the police have been informed and a full independent investigation will be conducted by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.’
As the IRR’s recent report Dying for Justice examines, at least nine of twenty-two deaths between 2000-2014 involved a pre-existing medical condition or were related to a medical condition that occurred during detention.
Healthcare in detention
In February 2015, Theresa May announced an independent review to be led by (ex- Prison and Probation Ombudsman) Stephen Shaw into the welfare of detainees held in detention centres or set for escort (including prior to deportation). The review was announced as the Home Office published research carried out by the Tavistock Institute which was critical of the assessment and treatment of those with mental health problems held in IRCs. The Shaw review ‘will seek to identify whether improvements can be made to safeguard the health and wellbeing of detainees’. The terms of reference for the review include ‘the appropriateness of current policies and systems’ in relation to the identification of vulnerable detainees, the prevention of self-harm and self-inflicted deaths; managing hunger strikes; and managing the mental and physical health of detainees. The six-month review will not report until after the general election.
Yarl’s Wood has been operated by Serco since 2007. In November 2014, the company was awarded a new contract, worth £70 million, to run the centre for a further eight years. The centre has been controversial since it opened in 2001 (at that time it was operated by GSL). A fire and disturbance on Valentine’s Day in 2002 resulted in half of the centre burning down. And more recently there have been allegations of sexual abuse by guards. A recent series of Channel 4 News undercover investigations at Yarl’s Wood showed the contempt guards have for people being held in the centre, with detainees referred to as ‘animals’, ‘beasties’ and ‘bi****s’. The undercover filming also raised questions about the standards and quality of healthcare and issues of how incidents of self-harm are treated. As a result of the Channel 4 News investigation two guards were suspended over allegations of mistreatment. Following the Channel 4 News reports on Yarl’s Wood further investigations have been ordered by the Home Office.
Furthermore, a series of hunger strikes and protests in detention centres have taken place over the over the last few months, in parallel with growing protests outside detention centres and those concerned with conditions inside.
Read the IRR’s report Dying for Justice which contains a chapter on deaths in IRCs and during deportation