HM Chief Inspector of Prisons today released two new reports following an inspection visit to immigration removal detention facilities at Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport.
The 88-page Report on an unannounced inspection of Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre is available here and the 47-page Report on an unannounced inspection of Family detention, Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre is here.
The adult detention facilities at Tinsley House were refurbished and reopened in May 2017 and have the capacity to hold 162 men. New family detention facilities at Tinsley House opened in June 2017 and replaced the Cedars pre-departure accommodation and the Tinsley House unit that had previously been used for families arrested at the border and needing overnight accommodation before a return flight.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, says his inspections found an impressive standard of care at Tinsley House, but there were concerns over and above the quality of day-to-day life in the units.
In particular, the inspection report on family detention facilities found that attempts to remove families were harmful and distressing for children, as well as being mostly ineffectual.
The report states: “The arrest, detention and attempted removal of families from the UK was harmful to children but was often ineffective. Children were woken early in the morning by arrest teams and escorted on long journeys before being detained in an unfamiliar environment with their parents who were often visibly distressed. Some children had witnessed their parents being restrained, but after this traumatic process, nearly 80% of families were simply released.”
The inspection report recounted the detention of one family (with three children aged eight, five and 15-months) as follows: “The arrest team comprised nine officers and a medic. Two other officers were outside with equipment to enable a forced entry should that have been necessary. They were not needed and had no contact with the family. The team arrived at 7.15am and knocked loudly on the door, shouting, ‘Immigration please open the door’. After about a minute or two, the team used the keys it had received to enter the property. The children were sleeping and Mr and Mrs S were in their pyjamas. The parents were taken to the living room. Officers stayed with the children in their bedrooms. The lead officer spoke to the family using a telephone interpreter. Communication was difficult and the parents were upset and shocked. They were arrested and asked to get themselves and their children dressed. They appeared confused and were slow to comply. An officer said, ‘We can do this the easy way or the hard way.’ The lead officer advised Mr and Mrs S that once they got to the short-term holding facility they could phone their lawyer. They got dressed, dressed the children, packed their belongings and made breakfast. A large number of officers were in the flat. Two were assigned to each parent and they followed them around the property. The team and the family left the property at 8.20am.”
The report noted that while the family were initially told they could phone their lawyer when they arrived at a short-term holding facility before being taken to Tinsley House, they were later told they could only use the phone once they were on the bus to Tinsley House.
Overall, however, the inspection report found there was no evidence that detainees at Tinsley House were prevented from contacting solicitors, and Home Office staff advised families to make legal challenges at several stages in the process. Of the 19 families that had been detained, five were released following a legal challenge.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons’ main recommendation in the report was that the Home Office should analyse why so many removals fail, with a view to reducing the unnecessary and harmful detention of children and families.
In response to the report, Celia Clarke of Bail for Immigration Detainees told the Independent that the distress and trauma inflicted on families subjected to these processes could never be justified in the name of immigration control. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott told the Independent the traumatic nature of the detention tactics were “brutal and unnecessary.”
The HM Chief Inspector of Prisons inspection report on the adult detention facilities at Tinsley House found that the centre was calm and stable and had a largely positive atmosphere, although detainees were often anxious and upset about their cases. Over 40% of men surveyed said they felt unsafe at Tinsley House and a large number of detainees had been subject to constant supervision as a result of an assessed risk of imminent self-harm or suicide.
The inspection report summarised its two main concerns as follows:
“Although many detainees were subject to constant supervision as a result of being at risk of imminent self-harm or suicide, no rule 35 reports had been submitted because detainees expressed suicidal intentions. Reports frequently did not contain enough detail to inform an assessment of the detainee’s vulnerability. Over a quarter of Home Office responses were late. In eight out of 10 cases in our sample, detention continued, despite the Home Office accepting evidence of torture.”
“Detainees’ ability to move around the centre freely had been limited considerably since our previous inspection. This meant they spent less time attending activities and more time in multiple occupancy rooms, which contributed to a lack of privacy and freedom. Other restrictive practices, notably in the visits hall, were not conducive to a relaxed environment.”
A Home Office spokesperson was quoted by ITV News as responding to the Chief Inspector’s report by saying: “This report makes many positive findings, including the good relationship between staff and detainees, however it rightly points out areas where we can do better, and we are committed to improving.”
Sarah Newland, the head of Tinsley House, said: “The report shows that while we do have improvements to make around diversity monitoring and promotion, and extending the use of the cultural kitchen, we can be proud of the work that we are doing to ensure that the detainees at Tinsley House are well cared for and supported, prior to their resettlement.”