Author: May Bulman
The Home Office has been accused of a “pattern of denial and obfuscation” after it emerged the department deleted records about the death of an immigration detainee.
Polish national Michal Netyks, 35, was found dead after jumping from a first-floor landing in HMP Altcourse jail in Liverpool on 7 December last year.
An inquest found that he had been due to be released from prison that day, having just completed his sentence, and had packed his belongings.
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But he was then informed that he would continue to be detained under immigration powers, pending possible deportation to Poland.
Home Office notes seen by The Independent and provided to the inquest have revealed that officials deliberately deleted the information about Mr Netyks being detained under those powers
As a result, campaigners accused the government department of trying to “shirk responsibility” for his death and claimed it constituted part of a “wider pattern of denial and obfuscation” on deaths of immigration detainees.
Senior coroner André Rebello also criticised the decision by the Home Office to delete part of Mr Netyks’ record, saying it was of “greatest concern given the duty of candour and integrity expected from government and its civil servants”.
He added: “The Home Office was made an interested person to protect its rights but also to assist the court. The following entry needs investigation and an explanation as its effect is to manipulate statistics – it appears to be almost a denial of the facts.”
His comments came after Stephen Shaw, who has produced two major reports on immigration removal centres (IRCs), accused the Home Office of keeping self-inflicted deaths in removal centres a “state secret”.
He raised concerns with the Home Affairs Committee in September that the Home Office did not conform to the practice followed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of publishing data on deaths of immigration detainees.
Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest, which supported Mr Netyks’ family, said the death was a “preventable consequence of a cruel and inhumane immigration process”.
She added: “One can only imagine the impact on Michal’s mental health, left alone with his thoughts having been told he would remain in prison, when he had been preparing himself for release. This critical inquest conclusion is evidence that the Home Office are responsible for yet another death. As in numerous other cases of immigration detainees in prison, the Home Office has failed to acknowledge Michal’s death in any public reporting.
Bella Sankey, director of the Detention Action charity, said deleting official data about Mr Netyks was a “new low for this beleaguered department”.
He added: “Instead of trying to hide its role in this preventable death, the Home Office should be asking itself why so many on the sharp end of the hostile environment commit suicide. The department’s Windrush review only scratches the surface – its time to end indefinite detention and automatic deportation and commit to full transparency whenever someone dies in the care of the state.”
Arthur Netyks, Mr Netyks’ brother, said: “When Michal came to the United Kingdom he was a young man full of faith and hope for a better future. Unfortunately, right before his incarceration, his life had hit a rough patch, which resulted in him being sentenced to a short imprisonment at Altcourse prison.
“A year on from Michal’s death, the family remains devastated by our loss and we find it worrying that there have been so many immigration detainee deaths in the same year.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We would like to express our condolences to the friends and family of Mr Netyks.”
The department added that it intend to work with the Independent Advisory Panel (to the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody) and others to review our data, how we can improve transparency and, more widely, whether there are any other lessons to be learned.