15 May 2018

Restraint methods used on asylum seekers found to be excessive

The restraint methods used on asylum seekers transferred from the UK to other countries has been found to be excessive, unreasonable, and disproportionate according to the chief inspector of prisons months after the Home Office said the practice had stopped.

Peter Clarke said they had serious concerns about the way a plane load of detainees were treated following the inspection of a charter flight to Europe where all bar one were placed in waist restraint belts, (where hands are clamped to waist)  for up to 13 hours.

His report states the detainees had no history of being disruptive and were considered minor or low risk, yet the Tascor escort staff were briefed to treat them as ‘extremely volatile.’

One manager is quoted as warning: “Tonight we don’t mess around. If you do, you may well hurt.”

The inspection took place in January of an air charter flight from Biggin Hill airfield outside London arranged by the Home Office’s Third Country Unit.

It found waist restraint belts were fixed on 22 detainees from Brook House and Colnbrook immigration removal centres before they got on coaches to take them to the airfield and were not removed until many hours later when they disembarked.

Some were handcuffed to belts for up to 13 hours while the plane flew to France, Austria and Bulgaria.

Inspectors found one female detainee, considered ‘vulnerable and at risk of self harm, was transferred in her pyjamas, slippers, a dressing gown and a waist restraint belt.

Mr Clarke’s report echoes concerns expressed six months previous by the Independent Monitoring Board about similar treatment of detainees on a flight to Europe last June when questioned the contractors ‘blanket approach to the use of restraint.’

The then immigration minister Brandon Lewis offered assurances that “the Home Office has acted on the concerns you have raised and that appropriate action is being taken to prevent these circumstances arising in the future.”

Today in a response to the prison inspector’s findings, a Home Office statement said:

“The dignity and welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance and we are taking the concerns raised by the inspector in this troubling report extremely seriously.

“Action is already underway to address his recommendations. This includes the introduction of body worn cameras under the new escorting contract with Mitie, which commenced on 1 May.

“Any use of force must be justified and proportionate and used only as a last resort. We are working with Mitie ensure that sufficient focus is placed on welfare considerations.”

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