A piece written byGeorge Collecot, one of BID's volunteers and LLB Law student at King's College London about his experiences assisting detainees at BID's workshops in Morton Hall and The Verne Immigration Removal Centres featured in the July issue of our e-newsletter.
One of the key aspects of BID’s work is running workshops in detention centres and meeting the people affected by the horrific regime of detention to provide much-needed legal advice face-to-face. I have been to two different centres to assist with these workshops: Morton Hall and The Verne.
The most recent HM Inspector of Prisons’ report on Morton Hall found that it was ‘generally well run’. However, this statement is in direct contradiction to the more disturbing findings of the same report – mainly that instances of self-harm had risen threefold, including a death at the centre just last week [https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/Morton-Hall-IRC-2016.pdf].
The most shocking example of the inhumanity I witnessed was when I visited one of BID’s clients in his room with BID’s Right to Liberty Manager. Our client had been detained for just under a year, and for the past two months he had been placed on suicide watch and was unable to leave his room. His bail application had been refused one week before. Sitting on his bed, I heard him explain that he could not promise that he wouldn’t kill himself. His treatment had been so brutal that he resorted to speaking calmly about his own suicide as if it was an inevitability. I then listened to the Right to Liberty Manager going through the multitude of reasons this man had to live, and the one which stuck was to keep living to spite the Home Office. When it was time to leave, he asked the Right to Liberty Manager to promise to tell his story if anything happened.
In full knowledge of the mental torture they had subjected this person to, the Home Office kept him in detention for a further three months, using the fact that he was a suicide risk as a justification for his continued detention. This would have continued if he had not been granted interim relief by the High Court last month.
The workshop provided further glaring examples of administrative incompetence: for example, one person came to the workshop nursing a broken hand, and told us that the only treatment he had received was some paracetamol. All this in a ‘generally well run’ detention centre.
To crudely summarise the feeling of the detention centre, you saw two emotions – despair and boredom: with groups of men standing round forced to do nothing but exist in a state of uncertainty and wait for an impersonal and potentially traumatic decision to be made.
The same inspectorate which described Morton Hall, a detention centre which allowed a man to die just last week, as ‘generally well run’, described the Verne as being ‘very mixed’
Looking at the information page about the Verne at justice.gov, it boasts that, in addition to the ‘multitude of activity’ on offer, it also facilitates ‘communication with the outside world’. This could not be further from the truth. Situated on the remote and imposing Isle of Portland in Dorset, those who are detained only receive on average 0.2 visits per month, as family members and representatives can rarely make the prohibitively long and expensive journey [https://detentionaction.org.uk/the-verne-an-exercise-in-societal-segregation].
The workshop at the Verne took place in the cafeteria decorated with condescending laminated signs telling adults that they were only allowed one scoop of rice at meal times. Throughout the workshop detainees filed in wearing grey track-suits and flip-flops, and the effect of such imposed isolation was clearly visible. The most striking example of this was one client who had been detained for over six months, and was two weeks into a hunger strike, protesting the lack of contact he had with his Home Office caseworker and legal aid solicitor. He was eventually released on bail just last month.
All the people whose stories I have mentioned were foreign national former offenders. The recent Panorama documentary on Brook House, though horrific and necessary, failed in one aspect as it depicted foreign national former offenders as violent individuals who terrorise asylum seekers. In reality they have been deemed fit for release by the criminal justice system but are kept in detention on the basis that they may re-offend in future. . Though this reason is contrary to basic concepts of justice such as ‘the presumption of innocence’, it is used by the Home Office to justify the indefinite detention of every foreign national offender after their release date, with disastrous effects on their mental and physical wellbeing.
It is hard to convey the scale of the abuse which takes place at detention centres across the country, but to attempt to put it into perspective, all the examples of incompetence and cruelty were clearly visible after visiting just two of the UK’s detention centres for a day.
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