Barnardo’s; 5 year old child frisked; Jimmy Mubenga’s death

Barnardo’s will pull out of a deal to run services at the government’s pre-departure accommodation (PDA) centre for failed asylum seekers if children and families are not treated properly, the charity’s chief has said.

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“Duty of care” vs “earnings per share”: private contractors in the UK immigration removals business

“We have always operated to the highest possible standards of safety and welfare for those people in our care,” said G4S, the security giant in whose careJimmy Mubenga died after “restraint”, Aboriginal elder Mr Ward was slowly cooked to death, and a five-year-old (unlawfully detained) was frisked by a latex-gloved employee saying: “You’re a big boy now, so I have to search you”.

G4S (slogan— Securing Your World) was responding to an Amnesty International briefing paper, “Out Of Control: The case for a complete overhaul of enforced removals by private contractors”.

The report, published today and reported in the Guardian, is not happy reading:

There’s “Carpet Karaoke”. . . “so named, because it involved forcing an individual’s face down towards the carpet with such force that they were only able to scream inarticulately like a bad karaoke singer.”

There’s G4S whistleblowers persistently warning — well before Jimmy Mubenga’s death — that “potentially lethal force” was being used during removals.

There’s broken arms, cut lips, a contractor’s knee forced into a deportee’s chest, and a Virgin Atlantic passenger — a London University student — questioned for hours under anti-terrorism legislation after speaking out in defence of a screaming deportee being violently restrained on the plane.

Amnesty tracks a pattern of improper treatment going back years.

“Sources with direct working experience of enforced removals have told Amnesty about serious failings in the training of private contractors conducting forced removals,” says the briefing. “Staff are trained in control and restraint techniques that are unsuitable for use on aircraft; there is no mandatory training in the safe use of handcuffs and restraints; and there is no watertight system in place to ensure that those accredited to conduct removals have received the required level of training. The reportedly widespread use of sub-contractors to fill staff shortages also raises further serious concerns about training and accountability.”

According to Amnesty: “Rigid bar handcuffs were routinely used by escorting staff not trained in their use . . . the misuse of rigid bar handcuffs in aircraft seats dramatically increases the risk of positional asphyxia in cases when a person’s arms and legs are tightly restrained by over-tightening seat-belts and the head is forced down, pushing handcuffs tightly into the abdomen, a life threatening technique that witnesses told us were routinely used during removals.”

In all Amnesty’s cases, G4S investigated itself (overseen by the UK Border Agency who had awarded the contract). No complaints were upheld.

Amnesty’s report reinforces the case for ending the practice of contracting-out difficult work involving vulnerable people to profit-driven private contractors for whom “duty of care” is an inscrutable concept, quite detached from the real job of delivering shareholder value.

“A complete and radical overhaul and reform of the current system is now required to enable the UK Government to meet its legal obligations to protect people against human rights abuses,” says Amnesty. “Reforms must drastically improve the training, monitoring, accountability, and techniques employed during enforced removals.”

Amnesty adds: “Given long-standing concerns over the accountability and conduct of private security companies, the Government should review experience in other EU countries, most notably in Germany, where the state uses its own law enforcement personnel to undertake enforced returns.”

Jimmy Mubenga’s widow, Adrienne Makenda Kambana, writing in the Guardian, welcomed Amnesty’s call: “What I now know is that while Jimmy is the first person to die during a forced removal since Joy Gardner back in 1993, there have been many, many reports of mistreatment by these private contractors during removals. There were a number of cases detailed in the report but one stuck out: a refused asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who said he struggled to breathe and feared he was going to die when security staff put a knee on his chest and sat on him, when he resisted his removal at Heathrow.”

She added: “Nothing can bring my husband back now, but the system must change to stop this happening again. I hope no one else has to go through the pain and loss that my family and I have endured.”

In another world, with a different scale of values, former Home Secretary Lord Reid is now a G4S director. (He was on the payroll at £50,000-a-year while he was still an MP). G4S chief executive Nick Buckles, who reckons “the proof of the pudding is that we’ve been through our business plan process”, gets a base salary of £800,000-a-year. Then, there’s his performance-related bonus of up to 150 per cent of that. Plus payment in shares (assuming targets are met) to the value of twice his annual salary again. Plus (I am not making this up — it’s in the Annual Report) there’s his £7 million pension pot, growing by the year. Plus, on top of all that, he has an unspecified interest in £14 million of shares in the G4S Employee Benefit Trust. And his personal stack of shares, at today’s market price, is worth £5.9 million.

About the author: Clare Sambrook, novelist, journalist, pro-bono co-ordinator of End Child Detention Now, won the 2010 Paul Foot Award and the Bevins Prize for outstanding investigative journalism.

Frisk the 5-year-old: the UK Government’s new compassionate approach to child detention

Clare Sambrook, 6 July 2011

About the author

Clare Sambrook, novelist, journalist, pro-bono co-ordinator of End Child Detention Now, won the 2010 Paul Foot Award and the Bevins Prize for outstanding investigative journalism.

“You’re a big boy now so I have to search you,” said the G4S custody officer to the five-year-old, donning latex gloves and patting him down at a Heathrow Airport detention facility run by outsourcing giant G4S.

The child had been booked into Terminal 4’s “short term holding facility” as a “visitor” which meant that his detention would have gone unrecorded but for a surprise visit by two of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Prisons on 3rd March this year.

The boy, an EU national, had been returning home to Britain with his father, a non-EU national, after a family visit to the father’s country of origin. The Inspectors noted that the child was detained “without the necessary authority”.

Their “Report on an unannounced inspection of the short-term holding facility at Heathrow Airport Terminal 4”, published today, found that in three months to February 2011 the lock-up had held 78 children, including eight unaccompanied minors. Their average stay was 9.9 hours, twelve children were held for more than 18 hours — the longest detention being 23.9 hours. Not all staff were CRB checked.
This, more than a year after the Coalition Government pledged to end the detention of children for immigration purposes, and six months after deputy prime minister Nick Clegg claimed it had been accomplished.

The five-year-old subjected to the latex “rub-down search” then witnessed his father’s humiliation. The father’s phone was confiscated, but, say the Inspectors, he was not offered the free telephone call to which he was entitled.

Instead of being taken to the family room, which had children’s toys, books and posters (but no natural light nor access to fresh air), the father and child were held in the adult room.

“The father had not been formally interviewed by an immigration officer and was very distressed at the prospect of being refused entry and separated from his son,” said the Inspectors. “When we spoke with him he did not understand what was going to happen to him next. He broke down in tears in front of his child and the other detainees, which was humiliating for him and distressing for the child. After we advised the detainee that he was entitled to make a telephone call, he spoke to G4S who granted his request. The detainee’s distress could have been alleviated had he been able to make the telephone call earlier.”

That these things happened directly under the gaze of HM Prison Inspectors suggests this might be UKBA and G4S on their very best behaviour.

Staff admitted to the Inspectors, “that they had not received refresher training in suicide and self-harm prevention” and “did not carry anti-ligature knives but a knife was attached to the first aid box in their office.” The Inspectors noted: “This could cause unnecessary delay in an emergency.”

The Inspectorate also reported today on Heathrow Terminal 3’s lockup where, over three months to February 2011, 98 children had been held including eight unaccompanied minors. A child’s average stay was 8.3 hours, with twelve children held for more than 18 hours – and one held for 30 hours.

Despite the long periods of incarceration, neither facility had beds. Adults or children could lie across chairs if they wanted to. “And even this did not give room for all to sleep,” said the Inspectors.

Although one third of the detainees at Terminal 3 and a quarter at Terminal 4 were women, there was not always a woman on the staff. “Rub-down searches” took place in an open office, “which was especially inappropriate in the case of female detainees”.

When detainees requested to shower, and if staffing levels permitted, they were put in an escort van and driven to another facility.

One member of staff at Terminal 3 told the Inspectors “of an incident many months previously when a detainee had been banging his head on the table and said: ‘Luckily we were able to put him on the floor and stop him doing it.’”

The Inspectors noted: “The use of three staff to pin the detainee to the floor to prevent possible self-harm seemed an over-reaction.”

Despite the large numbers of children being held, the Inspectors noted that staff had “inadequate knowledge” of the referral system “for identifying victims of human trafficking”.

Although there were some valid legal advice telephone numbers in the holding rooms, the Inspectors found “access to legal advice for non-English speakers was poor. Immigration officers did not always use professional interpreters when necessary, and did not always complete legally required documents correctly. Detainees could not fax a legal adviser freely.” Nor were they routinely offered the free phone call to which they were entitled.

So much for the “big culture shift within our immigration system” and the “new compassionate approach to family returns” prematurely celebrated in December by Nick Clegg.

Today’s reports provoke discomfiting questions, such as:
How many trafficked children miss their one chance of rescue because staff lack proper training?

How many children are detained “without the necessary authority”, misleadingly listed as “visitors”, patted down and patronised by people who may or may not be CRB-checked?

And, if this is how immigration detention works when HM Inspectorate of Prisons is in the house, how do things go when nobody important is watching?