On Saturday 29 November, over 200 people from all over the country gathered for a demonstration outside Campsfield House Immigration Detention Centre, the scene of frequent protests, hunger strikes and a riot, to mark its 10th anniversary.
Unusually, the demonstration was very heavily policed. The coach taking participants from London was stopped just outside Campsfield House. Police officers boarded the coach and read out a statement. Under the Public Order Act 1986, certain conditions were applied: no more than 300 people would be allowed to assemble; certain areas around the centre were designated off-limit; and demonstrators were instructed to re-board the coach by 2pm or be liable to arrest. Police explained that they expected ‘serious public disorder, serious damage and serious disruption’. Then, every person on the coach was videoed and photographed as they disembarked. At the rally, demonstrators heard from Bill MacKeith (Campaign to Close Campsfield), Emma Ginn (Campaign to Stop Arbitrary Detentions at Yarl’s Wood), Tim Baster (Bail for Immigration Detainees), Evan Harris MP and Bill Morris (TGWU), among others. At 2pm, the demonstration ended peacefully. The assembled demonstrators were all videoed again as they made their way back to their transport. Immediately afterwards another smaller demonstration was planned for the centre of Oxford. The coach from London was given a police escort into the centre of Oxford and its occupants were again questioned and videoed by the police as they disembarked from the coach. In Oxford centre, police formed a ring around demonstrators, who were watched and videoed by officers on foot, on horse-back and in vans.
Speaking after the demonstration, Bill MacKeith of the Campaign to Close Campsfield commented, ‘there have been over one hundred demonstrations at Campsfield. They have taken a predictable form, as we reminded the police beforehand. We also provided information that detainees in Campsfield welcomed the monthly demonstrations as a show of support for them in their isolated and vulnerable position… We informed the police about … who was coming, what their intentions were and what we wanted to do. They appear not to have listened. We are not a tin-pot group, nor are we terrorists. We represent the democratic opinion of trade union, political and other movements in the county and in the country at large.’
The Centre, which was opened on 29 November 1993, has detained over 10,000 people, and was, until recently, earmarked for closure. In February 2003 Home Secretary David Blunkett branded the centre ‘outdated’. But in October 2003 it was announced the centre was to stay open and be enlarged to hold over one hundred more asylum seekers. Campsfield House is run by Group 4, a private company which also runs Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre in Bedford, the scene of a serious disturbance and fire in February 2002. The company was described, during trials arising out of the disturbance, as a ‘national laughing stock ever since they first blundered into the field of private custodial services’.