Tinsley House immigration removal centre at Gatwick airport, run by G4S, holds men, women and children, most of whom are awaiting removal. When we last visited, we expressed serious concerns at the plight of the small number of children and women held in this largely male establishment. On our return for this unannounced follow-up inspection, conditions had generally deteriorated and the arrangements for children and single women were now wholly unacceptable.
Since our last visit, Tinsley House had effectively become a satellite of its newly opened neighbour, Brook House. This much larger and more secure removal centre, also run by G4S, provided a single management team for both sites. Managers at Brook House had faced a range of teething problems, which appeared to have been the focus of most of their attention. The consequence, pointed out to us by staff and detainees at Tinsley House, was that services and provision there had suffered, and a more restrictive approach had been introduced. Our previous suggestion that the opening of Brook House might allow Tinsley House to be refurbished to hold only families and single women had been ignored and, instead, already inadequate provision for these most vulnerable detainees had declined further.
Detainees continued to face disorienting moves around the immigration estate, and some vehicles were dirty. We also noted unprofessional conduct by some overseas escort contractors. Reception remained a poor quality facility and too little use was made of translation services here and on induction. There had been some improvement in suicide prevention work, although documentation remained variable. There was little evidence of
bullying or use of drugs, but the small number of single women felt intimidated and rarely left their rooms.
While little use was made of separation and use of force, we were disturbed to find an incident where apparently unnecessary force had been used on children when removing a family. Children continued to be detained for more than 72 hours. There had been no progress in developing appropriate child protection arrangements, and parents reported being worried about their children’s safety in a largely adult male environment. Childcare and education arrangements had deteriorated with the loss of trained and dedicated staff.
Accommodation remained clean, but stuffy and poorly ventilated. While staff-detainee relationships remained generally good, they had been affected by changed working patterns and more restrictive rules since the opening of Brook House. Staff talked openly about an increased prison culture encroaching on Tinsley House’s previously relaxed atmosphere. The race equality officer was now based in Brook House and had little time to address issues in Tinsley House. Work on diversity remained underdeveloped. The particular needs of single women were still ignored, leaving them feeling marginalised. Faith provision was good,although the multi-faith room remained inadequate. Healthcare remained reasonable, but was
still housed in poor facilities.
Although some more paid work was now available, we disagreed with UKBA’s insistence on linking access to it to compliance with immigration. This potentially compromised legitimate appeals against removal and bred discontent. The range of activities and education had shrunk. Education provision for children was now inadequate, and they had limited access to the fresh air. The library provision had also deteriorated.
There was limited preparation for release, with reliance on a small local charity rather than any in-house welfare provision. Access to visits was good, but there was neither food nor hot snacks for visitors. Access to phones and the internet was good, although there was a shortage of mobile phones to loan to those without one.
Overall, this is a deeply depressing report. Provision across a number of areas at Tinsley House had deteriorated since our last visit. In particular, the arrangements for children and single women were now wholly unacceptable and required urgent action by G4S and UKBA. It is also disappointing that the opening of the neighbouring Brook House had not led to a more thoughtful and rational approach to the use of Tinsley House. Instead, Tinsley House has become almost an afterthought, housing some poorly cared for children and a small number of scared and isolated single women. This is more than a missed opportunity; it is a wholly unacceptable state of affairs.
Anne Owers October 2009
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons