Disclosure in first report of prisons inspector on UK Border Agency’s ‘family-friendly’ Cedars unit near Gatwick
A pregnant woman in a wheelchair was tipped up and had her feet held by staff from G4S, the firm behind the Olympics security shambles, as she was forcibly removed from the country. The disclosure comes in the first report into conditions at a new centre designed to hold families facing deportation from the UK.
Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, and his team made an unannounced inspection of Cedars, the UK Border Agency’s new pre-departure accommodation near Gatwick, where families are housed for the final 72 hours before they are removed from the UK.
Nick Clegg promised in the Liberal Democrats’ 2010 manifesto that he would put an end to the detention of children. Replacing the controversial Yarl’s Wood detention centre with Cedars was at the heart of the coalition’s family-friendly removal policy.
Hardwick said the unit is “an exceptional facility [which] has many practices which should be replicated in other areas of detention.”
“It is to the considerable credit of staff at Cedars that children held were, in general, happily occupied and that parents were able to concentrate on communication with solicitors, family and friends,” he added.
But inspectors also said unacceptable force was used when a pregnant woman was given a wheelchair in the departures area. When she resisted “substantial force” was used by G4S staff and the wheelchair “was tipped up with staff holding her feet”.
“At one point she slipped down from the chair and the risk of injury to the unborn child was significant,” the report said. “There is no safe way to use force against a pregnant woman, and to initiate it for the purpose of removal is to take an unacceptable risk.”
Inspectors also reported that although most work from family escort staff was commendable, they “observed unprofessional behaviour by an officer on a different escort in the hearing of children”.
The report also said that although “considerable efforts were made to avoid force at the point of removal, it had been used against six of the 39 families going through Cedars”.
Judith Dennis, policy officer at the Refugee Council, said: “The numbers of children in detention are increasing. The government acknowledged then how harmful this practice is for children, so why are they still continuing to do it?
“Amongst its praise for the new facility the report reveals the shocking use of ‘substantial force’ on a pregnant woman, which is completely unacceptable,” she added.
Cedars can accommodate up to nine families at a time in self-contained apartments, with a range of activities provided by Barnardo’s – which campaigns for an end to child detention – and G4S delivering security and facilities management.
Families are referred to Cedars on the advice of the Family Returns Panel, an independent body of child welfare experts. They stay for no more than 72 hours before their departure from the UK. With ministerial authority, this can be extended to one week.
(www.guardian.co.uk / 26.10.2012)