Channel 4 report shows true brutality of detention centres

Channel 4's undercover investigation into Yarl's Wood detention centre won't be broadcast in full until tonight, but already it has revealed startling levels of brutality.

Serco, which runs the centre, has suspended one member of staff. It has promised to take further disciplinary action "wherever appropriate". The company has launched an independent review into its conduct in the centre. The Home Office has also told G4S, which delivers health services in the centre, to be prepared to launch a review.

The film shows guards caught on secret cameras, with one saying:

"They're all animals, they're caged animals. Take a stick in with you and beat them up."

Another says:

"Black women. They're fucking horrible mate."

Another piece of footage sees one say:

"Headbutt the bitch. I'd beat her up".

Investigators heard of a pregnant woman who collapsed at the centre and was taken to hospital. She later learned she had a miscarriage and was sent back to the centre.
The next day she went to the G4S-run healthcare centre in a state of extreme distress, while bleeding. She was told off for "refusing to wait her turn" and calling an ambulance of her own accord. She was not seen by a midwife for four hours, when she immediately called an ambulance.

The programme suggests assurances by Home Office minister Lord Bates that there had been no incidents of self-harm at Yarl's Wood was false, with 74 incidents reported in 2013 alone.

One officer said:

"They are all slashing their wrists apparently. Let them slash their wrists."

The programme heard inmates were jumping down a stairwell, with one breaking her own back.

The video footage gives us an unusually intimate portrait of the way detention guards speak behind closed doors, but these stories are told constantly by detainees, nurses and guards themselves, who are sometimes willing to talk on condition of anonymity.

These are not isolated incidents. They are the result of the lack of scrutiny in detention centres, the cultural pressures surrounding them and the incentives laid down by ministers.

Prisons and detention centres have been almost entirely closed off from public scrutiny. Prisons are off-limits to journalists unless governors authorise it, which they never do. Under Chris Grayling particularly, access to prison has been closed off in all but name.

The same goes for immigration detention centres. Individuals can go in to speak with specific detainees, but not with recording equipment. Those who do go frequently report harassment and bullying by staff. Hardly any photographs or videos exist showing what the centres are like inside. It is essential to their continued operation that they are easy for the public not to think about.

The popular pressure on behaviour is all negative. With the media debate so toxic on immigration, the demands on staff and management is on the fast removal of immigrants, rather than their care. That's why Rule 35, which is supposed to protect victims of torture from being locked up, is not followed or implemented properly. That's why checks for women who have been raped or people who have been trafficked are not working: because they are not a political priority. The political priority is getting people into fast track detention – where they are denied proper access to a lawyer or any real opportunity to make their case for asylum – and out the country.

Meanwhile, the example set by ministers is particularly damaging. Take Isa Muazu, whose case was reported by this website at the tail end of 2013. Even after a hunger strike which lasted months and warnings that he was at risk of death, Theresa May ordered his deportation. Take the asylum seekers secretly deported back to Somalia, despite the fact there is no such thing as a safe deportation back to that country. Take the case of Aderonke Apata, a lesbian from Nigeria, who will go to the high court tomorrow to fight her case against deportation to a country where her sexuality is an imprisonable offence.

The mix of these three factors – secrecy, negative political pressure and ministerial example – is unlikely to produce a healthy or compassionate environment.

The Home Office wants to address detention in an isolated way – a review of medical care here, a review into Serco management there. But there can be no proper assessment of the moral disaster we have created until we investigate the system as a whole.

Update 17:18GMT:

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s shadow home secretary, commented:

"It should not have been left to SERCO to commission an independent review into the running of Yarl’s Wood. Theresa May should have done this when allegations first surfaced about sexual abuse by employees at the Centre – and should certainly not have renewed SERCO’s contract before carrying out a full investigation into the running of Yarl’s Wood.

"Kate Lampard is an incredibly experienced barrister, with real expertise in rooting out wrongdoing where victims voices have been ignored. I welcome the fact she will scrutinise what has been going on at Yarl’s Wood. But it is totally unacceptable that the Government did not do this over a year ago. 

"It is Theresa May's responsibility to make sure people are treated humanely – she is completely failing to do so."