Neglect and indifference kill American man in immigration detention

Neglect and indifference kill American man in immigration detention


Written by: Harmit Athwal

A Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) report on Brian Dalrymple’s six weeks in immigration detention paints a grim picture of how the vulnerable are treated. Although Dalrymple was a white man, we report on his case to show that, in immigration detention, immigration status ensures a grim equality of treatment.

The report, Investigation into the death of a man at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre in July 2011details the concerning way that Dalrymple met his death. 

The inquest, which was held in June 2014, found that he had died as a result of natural causes and that his death was contributed to by neglect. It is usual practice for PPO reports to be published soon after the inquest is held. However the PPO report has only just been published. Though written dispassionately in sanitised language, the report paints a grim picture of how a vulnerable person was treated in detention.

Who was Brian Dalrymple?

Brian Dalrymple arrived in the UK on holiday on 14 June 2011 but was refused entry. Attempts to deport him back to America failed and he then claimed asylum. He was held in Harmondsworth removal centre for six weeks and a few days before his death he was transferred to Colnbrook (next door to Harmondsworth) where he died on 31 July 2011 from a ruptured aorta.

Brian’s mother, Lorraine, told IRR News that Brian suffered from mental health problems (schizophrenia) and other health issues but these were adequately managed as long as Brian was taking his medication. Brian had travelled independently before and had only wanted to see the UK and Europe as a tourist.

What happened?

On arrival Brian was detained after immigration officers decided that he was not a ‘genuine visitor’. There was a flight that same day that he could have been returned on, but instead he was booked on a flight the following day and redetained at Harmondsworth. At this time immigration officials decided that no mental assessment was required.

At Harmondsworth, Dalrymple had an initial health screening on arrival where he told the nurse ‘he did not suffer with high blood pressure, diabetes, mental health problems or any kind of heart condition.’ But she noted ‘that he was anxious about being sent back to America.’

The following morning he was taken from Harmondsworth to Heathrow but once there he told an immigration officer that he was scared of flying and would not get on the flight. He was taken back to Harmondsworth and another flight was booked for the following day. On 16 June, Dalrymple refused to leave Harmondsworth and said he wanted to claim asylum.

An asylum screening interview was arranged for 22 June. However, his transfer to Heathrow for the interview was not arranged and he did not arrive for it. The interview was rescheduled for the following day, 23 June. But on 23 June Dalrymple again refused to leave Harmondsworth. A fax was sent by UKBA officials to Harmondsworth asking Dalrymple to contact them to explain his reasons for failing to attend. There is no recorded response. Four days later, they sent another fax to Harmondsworth, this time addressed to immigration officials at the centre asking them to follow up with Dalrymple. No response was recorded. Then on 4 July, Dalrymple himself contacted the UKBA saying that he wanted to leave the UK but did not wish to return to the US. An immigration officer recorded on his file,‘although not documented as having any psychiatric condition, pax [passenger] does give the impression of not being completely rational in his thinking’. Another immigration official faxed Harmondsworth to see if Brian was ‘fit to fly’. No response was received so he faxed again.

In the meantime Dalrymple became ill and was found to have dangerously high blood pressure. He was then taken to Hillingdon hospital, where he received some treatment but refused blood tests or a chest x-ray and later discharged himself. Back at Harmondsworth the locum doctor failed to contact the hospital about Dalrymple’s treatment at Hillingdon hospital and failed to find out if any aftercare was required, or to ‘prescribe antihypertensive medication believing “he would have refused to take it”’. While in the healthcare unit Dalrymple refused to have his blood pressure checked. He promised staff that he would get it checked the next day, 18 July. He did not. Dalrymple was then discharged to a wing. The next time Dalrymple was seen by healthcare was nine days later. By this time, his erratic behaviour led to his transfer to Colnbrook. At Colnbrook his mental health issues were identified and it was decided that he needed to see a psychiatrist but he died before the appointment.

Signs ignored?

The report suggests that Dalrymple was dealt with appropriately – but surely common sense would have suggested that he should not have been there in the first place. Although he did not tell staff about suffering from schizophrenia his apparent deterioration in mental health was not acted upon. Throughout the report, staff (DCOs, medical professionals and UKBA staff) concerns about Dalrymple’s behaviour are detailed, yet very little action was taken to investigate what was wrong with him. His behaviour was described as ‘odd’, ‘very bizarre’, ‘strange’, ‘rude and incoherent’, ‘abnormal’ and ‘inappropriate’. He was seen ‘whispering and muttering to himself’ by a number of staff, ‘urinating on the floor of his room’, a DCO also ‘witnessed the man place a piece of clothing on his head and wearing it like a turban. He was also described as ‘uncooperative’, ‘racist and sexist’, and ‘unable to ‘maintain eye contact’.

Subcontracting detention

During his time in detention Brian would have been dealt with by numerous officials, from detention custody officers to UKBA staff and medical professionals all employed by different agencies and private companies.

At the time of Brian’s death, Harmondsworth, which holds 615 men, was operated by the GEO Group Ltd and healthcare services at the centre were subcontracted to Primecare. And Colnbrook (at the time of Brian’s death) was operated by Serco, with the healthcare services at the centre subcontracted to Serco Health. (Although, this year, in September 2014 Mitie, which also currently operates Campsfield House in Oxfordshire, took over the running of both Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, with a contract worth £8 million, and has plans to merge the two centres into a super-sized Heathrow immigration removal centre.)

Even before the inquest had started, a number of those involved in Brian’s care paid a ‘significant settlement’ to the family of Brian Dalrymple. Although there was ‘no admission of guilt or apology from any party involved’, the GEO Group, The Practice (the primary healthcare provider at Harmondsworth up to 30 June 2011), Nestor Primecare Services Ltd (the primary healthcare provider at Harmondsworth from 1 July 2011) and Dr Hamid (a locum doctor who had responsibility for Dalrymple) saw fit to pay compensation of a ‘significant’ amount of money.

Swapping people!

The report details the ‘swap’ of Brian Dalrymple that occurred between Harmondsworth and Colnbrook. According to the report the ‘Deputy UKBA Manager at Harmondsworth emailed the UKBA Centre Manager at Colnbrook, asking if they would consider doing a head-to-head swap involving the man and a Colnbrook detainee’ because of GEO concerns about Dalrymple’s ‘non-compliant behaviour’. A few days later the swap took place.

This raises a number of questions: has the transfer of problematic detainees in the immigration estate been subject to any investigations? Is it a common practice to move difficult detainees from one centre to another?

Related links

Read the IRR’s list of Deaths in immigration detention 1989-2014

Read a Corporate Watch article: Brian Dalrymple inquest day 4: Serco on the stand

Read a Corporate Watch article: Medical care in UK detention a ‘lamentable failure’

Read a Corporate Watch article: Neglect verdict at Brian Dalrymple inquest

Read a Corporate Watch article: Brian Dalrymple Inquest: Day 1

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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