More chaos at Harmondsworth as new protest takes place overnight

A police officer stands guard at the entrance to Harmondsworth following clashes between police and detainees in 2006
A police officer stands guard at the entrance to Harmondsworth following clashes between police and detainees in 2006
Ian Dunt By

About 70 detainees at Harmondsworth removal centre took part in a protest last night which was broken up by a special police unit, inmates have told me.

The prisons unit – the officers they use against prison riots or any disorder in a detention facility – arrived at about 6am. They are dressed entirely in black, wear helmets and carry batons. They reportedly arrested everyone and handcuffed them. Those involved appear to have been shipped out – possibly to Dover removal centre. Doctors reportedly gave first aid to those injured.

A representative from Harmondsworth confirmed there had been a non-violent protest of about 60 people which was brought to an end when the prisons unit showed up. But he said there had been no use of force at all.

"In most of these of these situations it’s the presence of these guys which brings the situation to an end," he added.

That was a different account to the one given to me by a detainee, who spoke to me on the phone as he watched the protestors being put in a van through a cell window. He said one man was not walking properly and showed signs of having been beaten around the legs.

"They treat us like animals," he said. "They can do anything, at any time, with anyone."

He asked for me not to give his name. "We are under observation," he said.

As I understand it, the disorder took place among inmates in the A and G wings.

Harmondsworth has been growing increasingly chaotic recently.

Some inmates on C and D wings have been on hunger strike for months.

Up to 330 people conducted a sit-down protest in the courtyard in May.

Last night's protest was over the use of fast-track detention, a practice which was found to be unlawful in the high court last month.

Mr Justice Ouseley said fast-track detention "carries an unacceptably high risk of unfairness" because of the extremely limited time asylum seekers are given with lawyers. He also ruled that authorities were failing to live up to their obligation to make sure victims of torture, trafficked people and those with mental health problems were not being kept in detention centres.

All fast track really does is deprive vulnerable people of legal representation. It's not actually quick at all. As one detainee told me: "If it's 'fast track' how is it possible they have stayed ten months in a detention centre?"

The protestors last night cannot understand how they are due to be deported by a system which has been ruled to be unlawful.

Harmondsworth has a capacity of 615, making it one of the largest detention centres in Europe. A report from the chief inspector of prisons last year found an increase in the number of self-harm incidents at the centre and a significant number of detainees refusing to accept food in protest at their conditions.

He warned that elderly, vulnerable and incapacitated detainees, one of whom was terminally ill, were needlessly handcuffed in an "excessive and unacceptable" manner. One man died shortly after his handcuffs were removed and another, an 84 year-old, died while still in restraints.

The ring leader of the hunger strike has reportedly been placed in a cell and cut off from other inmates. He is not currently contactable.


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