Chief inspector of prisons demand immediate stop to the practice 26th July 2011: Criticising the immigration authorities for taking detainees to the airport as "reserves" for others being extradited, the chief inspector of prisons has demanded discontinuation of the practice immediately.
Terming the action as a disturbing and heartless exercise, Nick Hardwick asserted the overseas escort staff at the G4S-run Tinsley House removal centre at Gatwick airport should stop it immediately.
He further divulged that a children’s unit was also being renovated and made bigger at Tinsley House to be used to hold back up to eight families with children.
Hardwick added that this practice was not in sync with the government’s pledge to end child detention for immigration purposes.
Hardwick elaborated: "More detainees were escorted to the airport than there were available seats, to replace detainees who might be granted a last-minute judicial review or suffer illness.”
Further revealing the conditions, the chief inspector said that the detainees were not told if they were a reserve. As a result some detainees, after getting ready to return to their country of origin and experiencing associated suffering, were returned to detention from the airport.
The chief inspector said that the latest inspection in May found the Gatwick removal centre had improved considerably from a previous visit when conditions were deplorable and when the centre was judged to have "slipped off" the private security company’s radar.
But at the same time the inspectors were alarmed to find out that a system of "reserves" for deportations was functioning.
Hardwick added the staff said that some detainees were sent back to a different immigration removal centre and expressed concern about the impact of this on them.
Supporting the practice UK Border Agency spokesman said that preparing more foreign nationals for exclusion than there was room for made best use of taxpayers’ money.
The spokesman added it meant that if a last minute legal challenge was launched that stopped them from removing someone on a particular flight, then another detainee was able to take their place.
On the other hand Hardwick sticking to his stand reatriated that the practice of holding back the detainees as reserves should be ceased. He also raised concerns about the children’s unit, which was being refurbished when the inspectors visited and was due to reopen shortly.
In the inspection report he mentioned that it was expected that children would normally be detained for less than 72 hours, but they could be held for up to a week with ministerial authority.
Hardwick brought to fore that there was no standard plans for the unit to show how it would be run. They had even hired an experienced childcare professional to oversee the new facility.
The inspectors were told that two types of family might be held at Tinsley House. These included family detained from aircraft and waiting for a flight back to their home countries, and families judged "unsuitable" for the new pre-departure accommodation in a former special needs school in the village of Pease Pottage near Gatwick.
The report published also asserted that the inspectors would come back to report on the children units once they became functional.
A UKBA spokesman verified that the Tinsley House family unit was to be used for families intercepted at the border and "in rare cases" for "criminal and other high-risk families who could not be safely" held in the new pre-departure accommodation.