Protesters 'tried to sabotage' immigration system

John Reid says immigration centre protest was attempted sabotage
John Reid says immigration centre protest was attempted sabotage

The unrest at an immigration removal centre (IRC) on Tuesday night was "an attempt to sabotage" the deportation process, home secretary John Reid has said.

Fires were lit by detainees at Harmondsworth centre as a sign of protest against living conditions - just hours after the prisons watchdog gave it a damning inspection report.

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) announced last night that the 500-odd people held at the centre, which is the largest of its kind, had been moved to other secure institutions around the country.

About 150 low-risk detainees from other centres may be bailed to make space, but Mr Reid stressed that no-one from Harmondsworth had been released. This includes more than 100 foreign nationals who had been in jail and were awaiting deportation.

"The disturbance appears to have been an attempt to sabotage the enforcement of our immigration law," the home secretary said in a written statement to MPs today.

"The perpetrators have been prepared to destroy property and to endanger their fellow detainees. They have, themselves, harmed their own environment. We will not allow them to succeed in frustrating the enforcement of the law."

Trouble apparently began when an officer refused to allow inmates to watch news coverage of a highly critical report into conditions at Harmondsworth from the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers.

The report found the centre was run more like a high-security prison than an immigration centre, with detainees' movements strictly controlled, a prohibition on keeping basic possessions such as tins and nail clippers, and the regular use of force.

More than 60 per cent of detainees said they felt unsafe at Harmondsworth, with 44 per cent saying they had been victimised by staff - compared to an IRC average of 28 per cent.

Detainees described some custody officers as "aggressive", "intimidating" and "unhelpful", although senior officers and the chaplaincy team were praised.

"This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an had been allowed to slip into a culture and approach which was wholly at odds with its stated purpose, and inimical to the proper care and treatment of detainees," Ms Owers said.

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said the disturbances at Harmondsworth was the "most disturbing outbreak at an immigration detention centre for years" and a symptom of an immigration system that was "out of control".

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said the events were "eerily predictable" following the chief inspector's report, adding: "If deportees are treated in an inhumane fashion, this sort of unrest is bound to ensue."


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