Questions about child detention at Serco’s annual meeting in London

At Serco’s annual meeting in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall this morning Dr Frank Arnold, torture scars expert and Serco shareholder asked the following question:

‘Serco is expanding its activities in Healthcare to include NHS hospital management, polyclinics and GP services. At the same time, the company is receiving serious criticism and reputational harm because of its role in the incarceration of children at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre under contract to the UK Borders Agency. As the Chief Inspector of Prisons and Children’s Champion have publicly insisted, it is not possible to lock up children (who have done no wrong)  without harming them,. Will the board agree to take legal steps to obtain release from its contracts with UK BA over administrative detention to improve the company’s reputation?’

According to Dr Arnold, Serco chief executive Chris Hyman replied that Serco had made improvements at Yarl’s Wood including fewer locked doors, a reduction in uniforms and new educational facilities. ‘We weren’t required to do that under the contract,’ said Mr Hyman.

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Arnold said, ‘Chris Hyman invited me to come to Yarl’s Wood with him. I said I’d want to include, subject to patient consent, him sitting in on a consultation so he could see what should be done with patients like this and compare it with what has been done by Serco staff. I’d really rather bring Phil Woolas or Meg Hillier, but Chris Hyman will do.’

Dr ARNOLD’S mobile: 077 404 229 18

Serco director of group communications Dominic Cheetham was at the meeting. His mobile: 0771 804 2605

Dr Arnold’s background note below:

Each year the UK detains around 1000 children (1) in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). These children are members of families identified for removal from Britain, who are detained under administrative order. They range in age from very young babies to older teenagers, as well as so-called ‘age disputed minors’, who are alone. They have committed no crime but can be detained without time limit and without judicial oversight. During a recent six month period 83 children were held for more than 28 days.

Many of these children suffer neglect of serious medical conditions, both physical and psychological which are frequently made worse by their imprisonment. Examples include children  detained while in sickle crisis, continuing detention in ignorance of a vital central venous feeding line in place, failure to provide immunisation and malaria prophylaxis when due, weight loss, behavioural regression, onset or deterioration of pre-existing PTSD and depression, and suicidal behaviour. All of these failures of care have been documented by clinical experts and in parliament and the media (3,4).

The vast majority of these children are locked up at Yarl’s Wood, where Serco  is the company responsible for detention management and healthcare. The company has recently made investments in trying to improve the conditions. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this has actually improved outcomes for these children, and there is considerable recent evidence to the contrary. However prettily you paint the walls, these children are still imprisoned, dealing with the traumas of dawn raids and being locked up. The administrative detention of children is simply too harmful to be accepted in a civilised society.

The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists, the Children’s Commissioner and the Prisons Inspectorate  have all recently called for an end to the detention of children. This shameful and damaging practice must cease. Serco should seek to terminate contracts which require the company to collude in state-sponsored child abuse.

1) Home Office. Control of Immigration: Quarterly Statistical Summary, United Kingdom, April–June 2009.
2) Lorek A et al. The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention centre: a pilot study. Child Abuse & Neglect 2009; 33: 573.
3) House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. The Detention of Children in the
Immigration System. November 29, 2009.
4) Porter H. The brutal truth of child detention. Guardian. November 24. 2009.