Published on 16 Jan 2014 Sections

Harmondsworth death: who was Alois Dvorzac?

Correspondent

He was on a global quest to find his daughter, that ended in tragedy. How did an 84-year-old Canadian’s flight to Slovenia end with his death while handcuffed in Britain?

In February last year an 84-year-old Canadian died in handcuffs after being detained at Harmondsworth detention centre in West London.

In February last year an 84-year-old Canadian died in handcuffs after being detained at Harmondsworth detention centre in West London.

His name was Alois Dvorzac.

The elderly man was restrained in cuffs for five hours before his death. He was suffering from Alzeimer’s disease. The handcuffs were only removed after his heart had stopped as medics attempted resuscitation. It is one of several cases of “grossly excessive use of restraints” highlighted by Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, in which detainees were “needlessly handcuffed in an excessive and unacceptable manner”.

But, what was Alois Dvorzac doing in the UK? Who was he? And why does nobody seem to know?

It turns out that this elderly man was on one final, desperate (and strangely compelling) global voyage to find a loved one.

He left Canada in January 2013. He had no family there, just a registered carer. As his health deteriorated and the fog of his condition started to close in, he decided to try to travel across the world to find someone he had lost, to re-connect.

According to the Canadian High Commission in London he was trying to find his estranged daughter in Slovenia. He made it as far as Gatwick airport. He was detained there because his paperwork was not in order and was eventually brought to Harmondsworth Detention Centre.

There is a much more basic, human tale here. A lonely, elderly man in the twilight of his life decides to reach out to someone he cares about

Although the surname is Slavic he had a Canadian passport, so the High Commission here was informed. Consular help was offered but he refused it, presumably too confused to understand what was going on.

“Detention seemed to have been used as an inappropriate default for a man who required social care,” said the chief inspector’s report.

“The 84-year-old Canadian man had been refused entry to the UK at Gatwick airport on 23 January, 2013. After a stay in hospital, he had been detained at the establishment, where on 30 January a doctor had declared him unfit for detention.”

In early February the report said an attempt to remove Mr Dvorzac had been called off after a doctor had declared him unfit to fly, and he had been returned to Harmondsworth, which holds 600 detainees and is operated by a private company, GEO.

On 8 February he was taken to hospital and then made a return visit two days later. Soon afterwards, he died of heart failure.

“He had been in handcuffs for approximately five hours when he died, still wearing them,” said the report.

His story will be used to illustrate the failure of a privately run detention centre but there is a much more basic, human tale here. A lonely, elderly man in the twilight of his life decides to reach out to someone he cares about. He embarks on a quest for companionship, closure, perhaps repair. A quest that ended up handcuffed and gasping for breath.

I’m trying to find people in Canada or Slovenia who knew Alois Dvorzac. If you think you can help, my email is paraic.o’brien@itn.co.uk