Group 4 to buy asylum centres

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The Independent Online

Group 4, the company criticised for its role in the blaze at Yarl's Wood Immigration Detention Centre, is buying more asylum centres in the UK through its bid for US prisons company, Wackenhut.

Wackenhut runs the asylum detention centre at Gatwick Airport. It also runs the new immigration centre in Dungavel in Lanarkshire, south-west Scotland, in partnership with Serco, the public to private specialist.

Group 4's $573m (£400m) takeover of Wackenhut was announced earlier this month. Group 4 will get its hands on a transportation contract for carrying refugees around the country. The joint venture with Serco also runs six prisons, including Doncaster.

In February, a fire at the Yarl's Wood centre, which is managed by Group 4, resulted in riots and escaped refugees, as well as £40m worth of damages. The lack of sprinklers was criticised and there is an Immigration Service inquiry into the fiasco.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, said the take- over provides an opportunity for the state to bring immigration centres back into state ownership. "Particularly in light of what's happened, the Home Office should review contracts and if possible renegotiate so the people who run them have the confidence of all concerned."

Serco could now search for a new partner in its prison venture, or bid to buy it outright. However a Serco spokesperson would not comment on whether it would try and take over the whole of Premier Custodial.

The Prison Officers' Association is concerned about the takeover of Wackenhut. The union is recognised by Wackenhut but not Group 4, and says it is opposed to the "creeping" takeover of the prison service for profits.

A Group 4 spokesperson said the takeover of Wackenhut was most appealing because of the security guard business in North and South America.

He said the prisons division, which owns the joint venture with Serco, would be run independently from Group 4, and it is possible they could be demerged.