Published on 4 Mar 2015 Sections ,

Harmondsworth undercover: ‘I don’t want to die here’

On Monday Channel 4 News revealed shocking footage from inside the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre. Now we have obtained video from inside the UKs biggest detention facility. Here’s what it shows.

Harmondsworth, near Heathrow airport, is home to more than 600 men and is run by the private outsourcing group Mitie in a contract worth £180million a year.

A detainee secretly filmed inside the centre over three months. Cameras are not allowed inside detention centres – and one Home Office employee caught on camera, offers an explanation as to why:

The Home Office worker says: “…say you’re in government, right, and you guys are taking photos of these bad conditions like the rats and whatever other s*** that’s in here and you’re sending that outside sending it to the news or whatever – that looks bad for the government.”

The footage, given to Channel 4 News by non-governmental organisation Corporate Watch, details some of the conditions the men are being forced to live in and the desperation of some men who feel lost in the system.

Corporate Watch describes itself as an independent research group that investigates the “social and environmental impact of corporations and corporate power”.

Read more: the Channel 4 News undercover investigation inside Yarl's Wood

Corporate Watch said: “The footage was shot by a detainee at Harmondsworth on a secret camera between October and December 2014. It was given to Corporate Watch in several stages, as part of our investigation into Mitie, the outsourcing firm that took over the detention centre in September 2014 under a multimillion pound Home Office contract.”

‘I don’t want to die here’

One detainee agreed to be filmed as he called his case worker begging to be deported.

“I beg you please I don’t want to take my own life,” he says. “I beg you. I’m tired I don’t want to die here. I want freedom, I got detained, three years now I’ve spent my life behind doors. Why?”

Three months after he was filmed, and the man has told Channel 4 News he is still being detained, though at a different detention centre.

Who are Mitie? Harmondsworth has been at the centre of controversy for years, and has been run by a variety of outsourcing groups. In 2004 and 2006 there were major riots at the detention centre.
In 2009 running of the facility was handed to US group Geo. Over the five years that Geo ran the facility, six detainees died in Harmondsworth – making it the deadliest place for migrants to be detained in the UK.
In September 2014 the contract for running Harmondsworth was awarded to Mitie. The company said it plans to merge Harmondsworth with the adjacent Colnbrook facility – making the largest detention facility in Europe with more than 1,000 detainees inside.
Before winning the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook contracts, Mitie's experience of running immigration detention centres was the small Campsfield House facility in Oxfordshire. However, the Home Office contracts made Mitie the UK's largest immigration detention manager – the FTSE-250 listed group has previously outlined its ambitions to expand in the detention market. 

Harmondsworth houses a mixture of men – those who came to Britain seeking asylum, and are awaiting decisions on their cases – and also ex-prisoners waiting to be deported.

The cameraman has previously served a sentence for GBH on his partner, and his voice can be heard over the images throughout the filming.

At one point he films the aftermath of a detainee having an epileptic fit. Voices in the video say it is the third seizure the man has had in less than three weeks.

The incident raises questions over the government’s detention policies – people with serious illnesses and disabilities, as well as pregnant women and the elderly, are only supposed to be detained in “exceptional circumstances”.

Channel 4 News showed the footage to a leading medical charity, Medical Justice.

Emma Mlotshwa of the charity said: “Epilepsy can be a very serious condition and we’ve seen a number of people with epilepsy in detention and we’ve had worries about how they’ve been treated.”

Medical care at the centre is provided by Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. They told Channel 4 News that all detainees are carefully screened and those who are particularly vulnerable are placed in an enhanced care unit where they can be monitored more closely.

‘Efficiency’

The secret footage reveals that Mitie is introducing what it calls efficiency measures at Harmondsworth – meaning detainees will be locked in their cells for longer each day. Under the new measueres detainees’ time locked in their cells would increase from 10 hours a day to 12 hours a day, comprising an extra hour in the morning and the evening.

Staff at the centre hold regular forums with detainees to air their concerns. Footage from one of these meetings show detainee concerns about the measures.

Whilst detainees protest that their freedom is being curtailed, Harmondsworth’s centre manager says the increased “lock up” times are not about the company’s profits, but about “efficiency”.

Mitie responded that it delivers a service in accordance with Home Office specifications and is not able to vary unilaterally that service to increase profits. It said that detainees are currently unrestricted from 8.15 am until 9pm.

‘P****ing off everybody’

And it is not just the detainees who appear to be dissatisfied. In an exchange between the cameraman and a guard, the Mitie employee, who previously worked for Geo at the centre, claims the centre is at breaking point and describes how conditions for staff have got worse.

He describes how he has little time to spend with his family because of the long shifts at Harmondsworth, but adds that “the one thing I learnt with Geo was what they did, you p*** off the staff but you look after the detainees.”

“These guys are not doing that. They’re just p***ing off everybody.”

Mitie told Channel 4 News the centre is not at breaking point and added that working hours and shift patterns were revised with the agreement of trade unions and staff.

In response to this report and our investigation into Yarl’s Wood this week, the Home Office said they expect the private companies running these centres to conduct investigations into issues raised. It said the centres are regularly and rigorously inspected and issues swiftly dealt with.