Outsourcing abuse – UKBA’s handcuffing of detainees “disproportionate, unnecessary and inappropriate”
A Home Office commissioned report by Baroness Nuala O’Loan [now removed from the Home Office website with no archive link!] into a catalogue of serious abuses that detainees alleged they suffered at the hands of the UK Border Agency’s security contractors claimed not to have found evidence of ‘systematic abuse’, but did highlight alarming operational failures in relation to both the complaints process, the retention of paperwork by UKBA and the application of the use of force in immigration detention.
The leading human rights solicitors Birnberg Pierce & Partners, who have condemned the UKBA’s handcuffing of detainees as “disproportionate, unnecessary and inappropriate” compiled their report ‘Outsourcing Abuse: The use and misuse of state-sanctioned force during the detention and removal of asylum seekers’ in 2008 based on dozens of allegations of mistreatment at the hands of UKBA contracted security personnel.
One such case reported by The Guardian and The Independent involved a 32-year-old Cameroonian torture victim, who was subsequently handcuffed while being taken into the operating theatre for surgery, and again after coming round from the anaesthetic. On each occasion hospital staff asked for the handcuffs to be removed; on each occasion their requests were refused.
As a result of the concerns highlighted by the Birnberg Pierce Report, Baroness O’Loan made 22 recommendations for change-not one of which would have been made had these allegations not been brought to light. However, rather than welcoming the original report for bringing a number of serious operational failures into the open, the UKBA’s director Lin Homer in her foreword to the report castigated the authors of Outsourcing Abuse for damaging ‘the reputation of contractors’.
Contractors who already have a well documented reputation in a number of official reports from the Children’s Commission and HM Inspector of Prisons for forcing in the doors of sleeping families in the early hours of the morning, regularly and needlessly handcuffing parents in front of their own children, and using prison vehicles to transport their ‘clients’ to detention facilities or airports despite the fact that according to Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Pierce many detainees ‘are survivors of horrific violence, torture and abuse who, as a result may be suicidal or suffer from mental illness’.
One of the most telling absences from the report is any consideration that children might be psychologically harmed by seeing their parents physically or verbally abused. For example, O’Loan says that
No complaints in relation to the treatment of children were identified in this Review, other than that in one case a mother stated that her three year old had wet herself because she had not been taken to the toilet.
However, many complaints highlighted in the original Outsourcing Report involved the verbal and physical abuse of parents in front of their children by UKBA employed security guards. Where these allegations were made, according to O’Loan, the investigation files were frequently found to be incomplete and confused and revealed a lack of thorough investigation.
But the same lack of thoroughness would appear to be a problem with the O’Loan report itself, since the report’s author relies almost entirely on documentary evidence from the Home Office and where it is missing makes no attempt to find out why or to interview independent witnesses or the complainants themselves. To simply comment in the case of AP, a woman from Zimbabwe who received an out of court settlement for civil damages against ‘Company 5′, who she claimed forcibly boarded her onto a waiting aircraft where
her arms were twisted and she was placed on the floor. Her baby was with her but left unattended. The escort officers abused her racially. There were six officers involved; two males and four females. The pilot refused to accept her on the plane.
that “this matter was not dealt with properly” is indicative of the ‘more in very mild regret than in anger’ tone of the entire report.
As hunger strikes in detention centres across the country proliferate and as new abuses of unaccompanied minors reach our office every day, the lack of engagement with the original report’s authors and the complainants featured in this follow-up ‘investigation’ highlights more than ever the need for a proper independent enquiry into the running of the UKBA’s immigration and detention operations.