Asylum seekers faced ‘excessive’ restraint on flight from UK

Prison watchdog criticises ‘flippant’ Capita escort staff who forced woman to use toilet with door open

Colnbrook asylum seekers
A total of 80 escort staff accompanied 23 refugees from UK immigration removal centres on the flight
(Image credit: 2004 AFP)

Asylum seekers were subjected to “excessive use of restraints” by private contractors during a removal flight out of the UK, according to the prison watchdog.

In a report published this week following an investigation, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said it had “serious concerns” over staff conduct during the transportation of 23 low-risk detainees from two UK immigration removal centres.

The refugees were escorted by 80 staff on the charter flight, to France, Austria and Bulgaria, and all but one of the detainees were restrained in waist belts, which “restricts arm movements and can hold arms clamped to the body in the secure position”, STV reports.

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The HMIP report says that staff were “flippant” and spoke to each other in “loud and jocular” voices, while the only female detainee was forced to use the toilet with the door open, in an “unnecessary intrusion into privacy”.

The escort staff were hired by transport and custody solutions firm Tascor, part of outsourcing giant Capita, and were given a briefing prior to the January flight that “emphasised the risks of disruption and the need for vigilance”, The Guardian says.

As a result, the staff “clearly thought they were dealing with a very high-risk group”, says the prisons inspectorate, but the “dire warnings they were given were not grounded in evidence”.

In response to the report, the Home Office 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 under way to address his recommendations. This includes the introduction of body-worn cameras under the new escorting contract with [outsourcing firm] 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.”

Capita said that it does not comment on individual cases, but that any complaints made would have been investigated thoroughly.

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