Legal action over Harmondsworth public inquiry refusal

Legal action over Harmondsworth public inquiry refusal


Written by: IRR News Team

Liberty, the civil and human rights organisation, has started legal proceedings on behalf of three detainees held at Harmondsworth removal centre in west London, who alleged that they were mistreated in the aftermath of a disturbance at the centre in November 2006.

Liberty’s request for a public inquiry into the disturbance was refused in June 2007, and now the group has initiated legal action on behalf of three unnamed detainees by launching a judicial review to challenge the government’s decision.

In documents lodged at the High Court, Liberty is alleging that the Home Office and Kalyx Ltd (the private company which runs the centre) violated Article 3 of the Human Rights Act – which prohibits the use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The Home Office has refused to hold a public inquiry because an internal investigation is being carried out – the results of which have just been published (see link below).


A major disturbance erupted at Harmondsworth removal centre in November 2006, following the alleged refusal of staff at the centre to allow detainees to watch television news reports on the results of an HM Inspector of Prisons inspection of the centre. Following the publication of the ‘Report on an unannounced inspection of Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre’ into conditions at the centre, the Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers, commented: ‘This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an Immigration Removal Centre’.

Liberty collected information from detainees who were held at Harmondsworth and this information was submitted to the Home Office in support of its call for a public inquiry.

Allegations made to Liberty by detainees include the following issues:

  • Officers were frequently abusive to detainees and intentionally humiliated them. They used racist slurs and beat detainees without provocation;
  • Guards bullied the detainees including one (PS) who suffered from the medical condition Alopecia (which causes irregular bald patches). The detainee was forced to remove his hat more than once and was then taunted about his condition;
  • A detainee who suffered from back pain was left for many hours without treatment and received abuse from the guards when he expressed his discomfort. When he was finally taken to the on-site clinic, it was in a wheel chair rather than on a stretcher, which caused additional pain. Furthermore, there was no doctor in the clinic to treat him;
  • Detainees were forced to go without food and water, some for over 40 hours;
  • Detainees were locked in severely overcrowded cells, in squalid and dangerous conditions – some for 24 hours;
  • Reports were received of detainees being locked in showers and toilets during the disturbance;
  • Detainees’ fears were compounded by the fact that some of the cells were in total darkness;
  • One detainee (N) with diabetes had no access to insulin throughout the disturbance, despite repeated requests, and only received it when he had arrived at a new detention centre. During this time his blood sugar had risen to levels that can cause permanent eye and liver damage;
  • At least one detainee has been left severely traumatised by the experience.

Liberty has also raised concerns with the Home Office after one of their clients, who had submitted evidence, was deported to Africa before he could instruct Liberty to act on his behalf. Liberty subsequently asked the Home Office not to deport any additional clients or witnesses – to which the Home Office has not yet responded.

Liberty’s Legal Officer Alex Gask, told IRR News: ‘It is difficult to determine which is more shameful – that already poorly treated and vulnerable detainees were brutally humiliated for two days or that the Home Office refuses to adequately investigate what happened. The government must establish what led non-criminal detainees to be locked in overcrowded rooms and denied water and toilets while the centre was on fire.’

Related links

Download the Liberty report: Excerpts from Witness Statements (pdf file, 128 kb)


Download the Report on an unannounced inspection of Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (pdf file, 464kb)

Download the report by Robert Whalley: Report of the Investigation into the disturbances at Harmondsworth and Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre (pdf file, 496kb)

Liberty has published testimonies from detainees, collected in the aftermath of the Harmondsworth disturbance in November 2006. The report can be downloaded from the link below.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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