Blazes at immigrant detention centre

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The Independent Online

Several fires were lit in Britain's largest immigration detention centre, causing disruption in all four wings, the Home Office said today.

The disturbance at Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre in Middlesex began late last night and was still going on this morning.

The fires set off the detention centre's sprinkler system but a Home Office spokesman said there were no reports of injuries to staff or detainees.

"A disturbance began late last night at Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre in Middlesex," he said.

"A number of specialist officers from prisons across the south of England have been deployed.

"All four wings of the detention centre are involved in the incident.

"Police have assisted the prison and immigration services by securing the perimeter and there is absolutely no risk to the public."

Harmondsworth, which can hold up to 501 detainees, is currently holding 482 people.

The disturbance started on the day that a report was released raising concerns about poor relations between staff and detainees at the centre near Heathrow.

Chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers said her new report on Harmondsworth centre was the poorest she had yet issued on such a facility.

It was not meeting any of her major tests and more than 60% of detainees said they felt unsafe.

Their main fear was bullying by staff, with 44% of detainees claiming they had been victimised by staff, compared with a national average of 28%, it said.

The centre holds immigration detainees including asylum seekers whose applications are being considered under fast-track procedures.

Ms Owers said: "This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an immigration removal centre.

"Harmondsworth is not an easy place to run, and the serious disturbance it had experienced had clearly affected the confidence of managers and staff.

"However, it 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."

Home Office minister Liam Byrne said he took the report's recommendations "very seriously".