HM Inspectorate of Prisons yesterday published two reports based on unannounced inspections of the short term immigration holding facilities at Heathrow Terminals 3 and 4 (Terminal 3 report here and Terminal 4 report here). The reports are broadly positive and on the whole the detention facility staff come out of the reports quite well. However, the reports are very seriously marred by one awful incident that occurred during the inspection of Terminal 4:
A European Union national child was detained without the necessary authority (IS91). The father was a non-EU national who had lived in the UK and was returning following a visit to his country of origin. The immigration officer brought the father and child to the holding room with only authority to detain the father. The DCO rightly challenged the officer and said she was unable to detain the child without the IS91. The immigration officer told the DCO to book the child in as a visitor, which her line manager agreed to. This meant that the child’s detention would not have been recorded on UKBA or G4S records and would have under-recorded the number of children being held and the average length of detention. Moreover, holding the child without an IS91 could have been unlawful. The child was signed into the visitors’ book and given a rub-down search by an officer wearing latex gloves. The officer said to the child: ‘You’re a big boy now so I have to search you’ – even though we were not searched when we entered the holding room and were treated as visitors. The father’s mobile telephone was taken from him yet he was not offered a free telephone call. Instead of being taken to the family room, 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. 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. The child was not given an activity pack until we requested one on his behalf.
The reports also highlight other unnecessary measures, such as staff wearing high visibility vests when escorting people to be removed, thus unnecessarily drawing attention to them, and poor or non existent training for airline staff, who also unnecessarily drew attention to those being removed and incorrectly referred to them in front of other passengers as ‘deportees’. All of this is unnecessarily demeaning, over and above detaining these people in the first place.
The incident with the 5 year old child is indefensible and it does make one wonder what happens when inspectors are not looking over the shoulders of detention and immigration staff. The Immigration Officer must have known there was no basis to detain an EEA national or a child, so for that child then to get the pat down when rather dishonestly booked into the facility as a visitor is very worrying. And why detain the father at all in these circumstances? As the parent of a a French child he probably had a right to enter the UK anyway. Understanding of the section 55 duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, basic European Community law and indeed basic common sense are still somewhat lacking at ground level in the UK Border Agency.
Some in the sector will recall one of the inspectors, Colin Carroll, from his time at Oakington and Leeds, and it is good to see him in action.