Group 4 Falck, Britain’s biggest immigration detention company, today called for the right to report ‘disruptive’ detainees to the immigration authorities so that asylum seekers’ behaviour in detention be taken into account when decisions on refugee status are made.
At the House of Commons, members of the Home Affairs Committee on Removals questioned representatives from private companies involved in the immigration removals process.
The companies – Wackenhut, Group 4 Falck, Global Solutions Ltd, Premier Custodial Group and UK Detention Services – are all currently involved in the detention of refugees. Loss Prevention International is the sole contractor for deporting detainees from the UK and Wackenhut transports asylum seekers arriving in the South East around the UK under the dispersal scheme run by the National Asylum Support Service.
David Banks from Group 4 Falck, now the largest private prison ‘service provider’ in the UK, told the committee that, ‘detainees who act in a violent or disruptive manner should have their behaviour taken into account by the immigration authorities and Immigration Adjudicator. The current inability of an adjudicator to take such behaviour into account poses a significant danger to the wider community, especially if leave to remain is granted to individuals who pose a criminal threat.’ But Frances Webber, a leading immigration barrister, told IRR News: ‘It appears that Group 4 Falck is jumping on the anti-asylum bandwagon and trying to create another asylum scare. Its suggestion that criminal or violent behaviour in detention cannot be taken into account by immigration authorities is mischievous and wrong. The criminal law provides adequate safeguards against violence, and there is power to deport those convicted of offences. But allegations of violence – by Group 4 or anyone else – should have to be tested in the ordinary criminal courts; we know from past experience that their evidence is not always reliable.’
On the issue of deportation, Tom Davies of Loss Prevention International Ltd, commented that a charter flight was the most ‘cost effective’ way of removing people and it was ‘more humane to remove on a charter flight because it is out of the public eye and therefore the temperature of the thing is much lower’.
When the companies were questioned about attempted suicides and ‘successful’ suicides of asylum seekers in their care, they gave figures for attempted suicides, but all insisted that no suicide attempt had been successful. However, the Institute of Race Relations’ records show otherwise. In fact, there have been two suicides of detained asylum seekers at Harmondsworth detention centre, run by Group 4 at the time.
- Lithuanian asylum seeker Robertas Grabys, 49, was found hanged in Harmondsworth detention centre on 24 January 2000. The Home Office had attempted to deport Robertas two days prior to his death.
- Kimpua Nsimba was found hanged on 16 June 1990 at Harmondsworth Detention Centre. He arrived in the UK ten days earlier and had been detained at Heathrow. The day before his death when he did not come down for food, Group 4 searched the building. When he was not found, it was reported that he had absconded. A cleaner found his body the next day. Group 4 could not explain how he was missed the day before.
The Institute of Race Relations’ research also highlights other concerns about private companies operating prison and detention facilities:
Black prisoner deaths and lack of training
- 33-year-old Alton Manning died on 8 December 1995 at Blakenhurst prison, run by UK Detention Services Ltd (owned by Corrections Corporation of America and Sodhexo). Alton died after being ‘controlled and restrained’ during an intimate strip search by eight prison officers. A post mortem found that he died of asphyxia and recorded extensive bruising to his body and face. At least one of the officers involved denied any knowledge of Home Office guidelines (issued after the death of asylum seeker Omasese Lumumba in Pentonville prison in 1991) about the use of restraint on prone persons or applying pressure to the neck or chest. The inquest also heard how, during its first year running the prison, UK Detention Services Ltd operated without the benefit of the Home Office Control and Restraint Manual. The inquest jury recorded a unanimous verdict of unlawful killing in March 1998.
Black prisoner deaths and lack of care
- 30-year-old Peter Austin was found hanged on 29 January 1997 at Brentford magistrate’s court. Securicor was responsible for guarding and caring for prisoners at the court. He was left hanging for over 10 minutes while the guards discussed what to do. After the inquest recorded a unanimous verdict of ‘lack of care contributed to accidental death’, the Prison Service said it was reviewing Securicor’s training programme. Nicholas Long, a lay visitor to the courts, wrote to the Independent ‘of concerns about the care of prisoners while in the custody of Securicor Custodial Services’. His attempts to raise his concerns were blocked by the Home Office which maintained that relations with Securicor were ‘contractual’ and therefore ‘commercially confidential’ .
- Securicor was also responsible for 23-year-old Michelle Allen when she was found hanged at Barking magistrates court on 2 November 2001.
Refugees in detention
- In June 1998, nine refugees – seven men and two boys – were acquitted on charges of riot and violent disorder after disturbances at Group 4-run Campsfield detention centre in Oxford in 1997. The centre manager admitted to Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, in his unannounced inspection of the centre in October 1997 that ‘both the May and August 1997 disturbances had probably been caused by the removal arrangements for a few detainees’. This was confirmed by a manager, who said, ‘the latest disturbance was on account of the forcible removal of two detainees’. Ramsbotham also commented in his report of the inspection: ‘It is frankly unsound and unsafe to hold people within a secure perimeter without clear rules and sanctions governing their behaviour, and without statutory duties and obligations being imposed on the staff who look after them. It is the lack of clear rules and sanctions that is at the heart of the problems facing contracted Detention Centre staff.’
- Group 4 was responsible for the Yarl’s Wood detention centre when a fire broke out on 14 February 2002. The Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) criticised Group 4 for the lack of evacuation procedures and proper fire training. FBU General Secretary, Andy Gilchrist criticised Group 4 for treating asylum seekers as ‘second class citizens’ by putting ‘private profit before the lives of asylum seekers’.
- Fined for poor performance in prisoner escort contracts: In 2002, private companies contracted to escort prisoners to court were fined over £600,000 for performance failures since 1999. Securicor Custodial Services were fined £500,000, Group 4 Court Services £60,000, Premier Prison Services £36,000 and Reliance Custodial Services £25,000.
- Israel: In October 2000, the Danish branch of Group 4 Falck was forced to withdraw over 100 armed guards patrolling Israeli settlements on the West Bank after criticism from the Danish newspaper Politken. The Danish company also bought a 50 per cent share in Israel’s largest private security firm – Hashmira Corporation – in 2002. Hashmira Corporation was reportedly involved in operations declared illegal by the UN, including patrols in the occupied areas and police barriers.
- Australia: In May 2002, Group 4 Falck bought Wackenhut which owned Australasian Correctional Management (ACM). ACM runs immigration detention centres in Australia: Baxter Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (IRPC), Port Hedland IRPC, Maribyrnong Immigration detention Centre (IDC), Perth IDC, Christmas Island, Villawood IDC, Woomera IRPC and Woomera Residential Housing Project. In January 2002, Amnesty International (AI) commented, ‘AI deplores the continued detention of children in the Woomera detention centre in the circumstances where a number of detainees have sewed their lips together as a protest. Witnessing such actions is likely to further traumatise children.’ The UN has also criticised conditions at Woomera, which has also seen riots, attempted suicides, hunger strikes and mass break-outs. In January 2003, Baxter, Port Hedland, Woomera, Christmas Island and Villawood were besieged by fires started by detainees protesting at their conditions. Campaigners report that detainees have been tear-gassed, handcuffed and prevented from evacuating from burning buildings.